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REASON AND “URIZEN”: THE PRONUNCIATION OF BLAKEAN NAMES

The suggestions put forward by Kerrison Preston concerning the pronunciation of Blake’s invented names (Blake Newsletter, 3 [May 1970], 106) are useful for spurring discussion of this vexing subject, but are in some cases difficult to assess. There probably is no way to test the pronunciation of “Los,” “Luvah,” and “Vala,” and a number of other names, because the question is one of vowel-quality, not placement of accent. Where stressing is the issue, as in “Urizen” and “Ololon,” the name can be checked against the metrical contexts in which it occurs (see below). But since no such technique exists for testing vowels, we may eternally muddle along with hunches based on word-echoes, philosophical associations, and phonological probability. There surely is substance for debate on these grounds, but nothing like the hard evidence provided by metrics in the matter of accent.

The great bone of accentual contention, more often stubbornly mouthed at both ends than fought for with intellectual spears, is the name “Urizen.” At either end are YUR / I / ZEN and YU / REE / ZEN (or, alternatively, UR / AYE / ZEN). Doubtless there are other variants, but these seem to be the main ones. The question may be put: is “Urizen” correctly pronounced with the primary stress on the first or the second syllable? The aim of the following is to settle this question by means of a method which will, I hope, also be helpful with regard to other names. The conclusion—that Blake pronounced “Urizen” with a primary stress on the first syllable—is not intended to inflict One Law, but only to demonstrate Blake’s practice.

Fortunately for our purpose, Blake adhered to a rather strict iambic heptameter scheme in Visions of the Daughters of Albion, America, and Europe. These poems not only provide a common, and firm, metrical context (as The Book of Urizen does not) they also contain the first ten appearances of “Urizen,” fresh as it were from Blake’s forehead:

1. Ŏ Úrĭzén! Cr̆eátŏr ŏf mén! mĭst́akĕn D́emŏn ŏf héavĕn (VDA 5:3)

2. Th̆e f́iĕry̆ jóy, thăt Úrĭzén pĕrvértĕd tŏ tén cŏmmánds (A 8:3) begin page 18 | back to top 3. Th̆e Héavĕns méltĕd frŏm noŕth t̆o soúth; an̆d Úrĭzén wh̆o sát (A 16:2)

4. Ĭn th́at dréad niǵht wh̆en Úrĭzén cáll’d th̆e stárs roúnd hĭs féet (A canc. b:5)

5. Ănd Úrĭzén ŭnlóos’d frŏm cháins (E 3:11)

6. Tĭll aĺl th̆e sóns ŏf Úrĭzén lŏok oút an̆d énv̆y Lós (E 4:2)

7. H̆e sáw Úrĭzén ón th̆e Ătlántĭc (E 11:2)

8. Fŏr Úrĭzén ŭncláspd hĭs Bóok; féedin̆g hĭs sóul wĭth ṕity̆ (E 12:4)

9. B̆etwéen th̆e clóuds ŏf Úrĭzén th̆e flámes ŏf Oŕc rŏll héavy̆ (E 12:32)

10. Wákin̆g th̆e stárs ŏf Úrĭzén wĭth théir im̆mórtăl sońgs (E 14:33)
[e]

Notice that in every context except the seventh, “Urizen” begins on an even-numbered, stressed syllable unless preceded by an anapest (as in two an three), in which case the syllable is stressed and odd-numbered. The apparent exception of context seven is equivocal since it occurs in a group of short and metrically irregular lines. Context five is also short, but sturdily iambic. To remove the primary stress from the first syllable of “Urizen” and the secondary stress from the last, and to accent arbitrarily the name’s middle syllable, would be to commit unjustifiable violence on each line. We then would have an unbroken series of pyrrhic feet followed by medial inversions, or else no heptameters at all. Later on in Blake’s poetry, when the metrical scheme is less clearly defined, the mid-stress could in isolated cases perhaps be reasonably suggested; but these very rhythmic lines allow no alternative to a front-stressed “Urizen.”

A contrast with “Urthona” is instructive. In each of its first ten occurrences, “Urthona”—to the contrary of “Urizen”—begins on an odd-numbered, unstressed syllable unless preceded by an anapest. This positioning would prevail in the case of “Urizen” were it mid-stressed like “Urthona,” but since it is not, it begins on the contrary syllable.

Further evidence for a front-stressed “Urizen” may also be seen in contrast to an “Urthona” paradigm. In its ninety-four occurrences in Blake’s poetry (counting possessives), “Urthona” begins nine times in a line’s first syllable but only once in its second: “Of Urthona. Los embracd” (FZ VII: 85:29). Blake deliberately avoided the latter placement because it gives the effect of anacrusis—an extra unstressed syllable before the proper beginning of an iambic line. But “Urizen” begins in a line’s second syllable about sixty times—almost characteristically. The initial syllable is usually a conjunction—cf. “And . . . ” and “For Urizen,” above—which forms, with front-stressed “Urizen,” a normal iambic opening. That “Urizen” should also by itself begin many lines is not surprising in view of the Miltonic and even Augustan precedents for initial inversion. In such cases, the name’s third syllable becomes the unstressed first half of the succeeding iamb: “Urizen knew them not” (FZ VI:67:7).

Whether Blake usually spoke “Urizen” as a pure dactyl or with a secondary final stress—as “Benjamin” or as “Benjamite”—is not finally deducible from the metrics, and raises the forbidding problem of vowel-quality. On this subject our only assurance is that the middle vowel is neither EE or AYE, but a swallowed short “i” or a schwa.1 1 Mona Wilson, in Keynes’s new edition of The Life of William Blake (Oxford, 1971), p. 106, states in a footnote about “Urizen” that “ . . . the i scans short.” Her judgment agrees with mine, but its bearing upon the stressing of the whole name is not entirely clear. Does she advocate YUR / I / ZEN or YU / RIZZ / EN? One is tempted to speculate that the doubly-emphasized “-zen!”-“men!” pairing of the first appearance of “Urizen,” quoted above, is an internal rhyme designed to aid pronunciation, and that the attachment of an off-glided “y” to the first vowel is probable since it eliminates hiatus, but Blake’s practice remains obscure—excepting, of course, the initial stress. In this connection, it would seem that despite Mr. Preston’s suggestion that “Ololon” be accented on the second syllable, Blake stressed it on the first. It begins in a line’s second syllable proportionately even more often than “Urizen” does. All students of Blake will be pleased to know, however, that on the basis of the method outlined above, “Bromion” and “Enion” have been pronounced by them correctly all along.

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