Blake’s Beulah & Beulah Hill, Surrey
Much is written concerning Blake’s nature myth of Beulah, but one important fact which has as yet not been pointed out, is that there is an actual Beulah Hill in Surrey—in Blake’s day, located in the countryside adjoining London; today, considered part of the city itself. If the mythic Golgonooza is the “spiritual Four-fold London / eternal”1↤ 1 M 6.1. and Jerusalem can be identified also with London, it may be that the mythical, naturally beautiful Beulah also has a parallel in Blake’s concrete experience of the suburbs and bordering countryside of the city he lived in.
The actual Beulah Hill, Surrey, is just north of Norwood, which Blake refers to frequently as a kind of southern boundary to greater London.2↤ 2 M 6.5; J 42.51; J 42.80. Roche’s Map of 1745 of London and its environs transcribes the spot as Bewley’s Farms and Bewley’s Woods. The English Place-Name Society records that the name for the spot is ancient, taking the form of Bewley in 1493, Beaulieu Hill and Bulay Hill in 1823, and Beaulah Spa in 1836. They write: “The forms are late, but it may be that the name is . . . of post-Conquest origin, from OFr Be(a)u L(i)eu, beautiful spot.”3↤ 3 J. E. B. Gover et al., The Place Names of Surrey (Cambridge: The University Press, 1934), pp. 49-50. The present-day spelling of Beulah Hill, Surrey seems to indicate that although the spellings were different (eighteenth century and early nineteenth century spellings varied in general), the pronunciation of “Beaulieu” or “Bulay” was like that of Blake’s “Beulah.” The meaning of the names of the actual locality was the same as the connotated meaning of the Biblical Beulah, as developed by Bunyan—a naturally beautiful paradise.
The actual Beulah Hill may have inspired an identification between Blake’s Beulah and the country south of London. This may be indicated by Blake’s phrase—“Thames and Medway, rivers of Beulah” (J 4.34); the tributaries of the Thames and Medway rivers watered Surrey. That Beulah was country adjoining the city seems indicated by the lines about—
. . . the Sleeping Man
Who, stretch’d on Albion’s rocks, reposes amidst his Twenty-eight
Cities, where Beulah lovely terminates in the hills and valleys of Albion.
Norwood may well have been one of Blake’s destinations on his walks south of London, and the sleep of Beulah may have occurred literally (as well as in the many ways already commented upon, imaginatively) when he rested. We know that Blake took long walks both in London and out into the country surrounding it because he tells us so in his poetry. Thus the mythical Beulah, with its allusions to Scripture4↤ 4 In Scripture, Beulah means “married.” It represents Palestine—“Thy land [shall be called] Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married” Isaiah lxii.4. Cited by S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1971), p. 42. and John Bunyan, may have a special basis in fact and a parallel with Blake’s personal experience of London and its countryside. If Jerusalem can be imaginatively identified with London, Palestinian Beulah may also have been identified by him with the London countryside of Beulah Hill, Surrey.