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Blake’s Proverbs of Hell: St. Paul and the Nakedness of Woman
Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell contains a section entitled Proverbs of Hell. This section, like the work as a whole, contains sharp satiric, even parodic, elements directed against the Bible, Blake’s devotion to Scripture notwithstanding. begin page 49 | One of the proverbs therein is “The nakedness of woman is the work of God.”1↤ 1. Proverbs 25. Strangely, as far as I know, no one has noted the sharp—one might say polemical—relationship of this aphorism to a famous passage in Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians: “Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head; for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn; but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of god: but the woman is the glory of the man” (11:5-7).2↤ 2. King James Version. “The woman is the glory of the man.” Paul’s aphoristic structure is kept by Blake: “The nakedness of woman is the work of God.”3↤ 3. Verbal and structural (and perhaps satiric) echoes of Paul’s passage are already present in Blake three lines earlier, “The pride of the peacock is the glory of God” (22). Paul’s injunction that women need to keep their hair covered is countered by Blake’s overriding praise of the naked woman. While Paul condemns the baring of a woman’s head, Blake lauds her presence with no coverings at all. This rejection of Paul is another example of what Bloom calls “Blake’s Proverbs exist[ing] to break down orthodox categories of thought and morality.”4↤ 4. Harold Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1963) 85.