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Nobodaddy: Through the Bottomless Pit, Darkly

The names of Blake’s poetic characters are, of course, vast in their associations, often incorporating puns, conflations and anagrams based upon key words or Biblical, classical, and historical characters.11 See the informative footnotes explaining the origins of many of the names in David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, rev. ed. (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1969), especially the notes on pp. 25, 253. Nobodaddy, the farting, belching “Father of Jealousy” (E 462) who hides himself in clouds and loves “hanging & drawing & quartering / Every bit as well as war & slaughtering,” (E 490) has received general critical agreement as to the significance of his name. “Old daddy Nobody” and “Nobody’s daddy”22 See Erdman, Prophet, p. 179. seem logical expansions of the compact name of this destructive divinity who appears in several of the Notebook poems and who manifests himself elsewhere as Urizen, Winter, the Will, and the Old Testament God.33 See Harold Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1963), p. 106, and Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1947), pp. 62-63. But “Nobodaddy,” it should be noted, is also a close anagram of the name of a character who appears in two of Blake’s favorite Biblical books, Job and Revelation: Abaddon (Hebrew for “destruction”). Anagrammatized, “Abaddon” becomes “Nobadad.” He is “the angel of the bottomless pit” who appears in Revelation 9:11 and is mentioned in Job 26:6.44 Abaddon also appears as a place of destruction in Psalms 88:11 and in Proverbs 15:11. In the King James Version, Abaddon is translated into “destruction” in the passages in Job, Psalms, and Proverbs, but remains in the Herbrew form “Abaddon” in Revelation. Revelation 9:11 tells us that the “name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Appollyon.” Blake, of course, chooses to work with the Hebrew name.

Like Blake’s Nobodaddy, who hides himself in clouds and thrives in “darkness & obscurity,” (E 462) Abaddon exists, too, in an obscure beclouded place; when an angel of the apocalypse opens the shaft of Abaddon’s realm, there “arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit” (Rev. 9:2).55 This description of the smoke-filled abyss also parallels several scenes elsewhere in Blake’s works; see, for example, “A Memorable Fancy” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell where “we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city” (E 40); Jerusalem where the Sons of Albion divide and “Arise as the smoke of the furnace” from “a hideous orifice” (E 222); and in The Four Zoas, Night the Third, where Urizen’s fall takes place amidst “thunders & thick clouds” and moves into the “smoke” of “The nether Abyss” (E 322-23). Abaddon is the king of the locusts that are released during the apocalypse in order to torture but not to kill “those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4). Old Nobodaddy, who is (with his love of “hanging & drawing & quartering . . . war & slaughtering”), like Abaddon, the personification of destruction, reflects nonetheless Abaddon’s less than humane decision to torture but not to kill: “To kill the people I am loth,” (E 490) swears Nobodaddy solemnly and hypocritically. And in his satiric verse, “When Klopstock England Defied” (E 491), Blake portrays Nobodaddy ordering a miniature apocalypse, with Blake himself commanded by Nobodaddy to inflict torture but not death on the infidel Klopstock. As the smoke rising from Abaddon’s bottomless pit accompanies the release of the locusts, Nobodaddy’s “Fart[ing] & Belch[ing] & cough[ing]” (1. 4) bring on “a ninefold yell” from “all the devils that were in hell” (11. 13-14), and the moon “blush[es] scarlet red” (1. 11) in a parody of “the moon [becoming] as blood” (Rev. 6:12) when the sixth seal is opened. No seal is opened in Blake’s poem, however; rather, Klopstock’s bowels are sealed shut as Blake obeys Nobodaddy and inflicts “nine fold pain” (1. 28) on the hapless German poet who “defied” England by attempting to carry on Milton’s legacy in German, reason enough to be fit, like those in Revelation, for torture. Klopstock’s plight—not to be relieved until “to the last trumpet it was farted” (1. 20)—can be likened to that of the men tortured by the locusts, who, in their pain, “shall . . . seek death, and shall not find it . . . ” (Rev. 9:6). Nobodaddy, however, ultimately withdraws his sadistic, destructive orders and by the end of the poem Blake characteristically begins to pity Klopstock: “From pity then he redend round / And the Spell removed unwound” (11. 29-30).

Abaddon, then, the embodiment of destruction, sadistic torturer of any man who failed to gain God’s favor, cloud-obscured and smoke-hidden angel of the bottomless pit, is an ideal Biblical model for Blake’s Nobodaddy, whose name reflects Abaddon’s in a scrambled, “dark and obscure” way.

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