begin page 196 | back to top

The Gates of Memory in Night VIIa of The Four Zoas

In Night IX of The Four Zoas, Urizen begins a movement toward redemption by delivering a speech of repentance. The speech is particularly interesting because Blake at some time made an important revision in the nature of Urizen’s remarks. Changing five words in the text, he redirects what was originally a telling rejection of memory. In revising Urizen’s opening words—“O that I had never drank the wine nor eat the bread / Of dark mortality nor cast my view into the past”11 See textual note in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1982), p. 844. All quotations from The Four Zoas refer to this edition. —Blake makes anticipation rather than retrospection the object of his condemnation: “O that I had never drank the wine nor eat the bread / Of dark mortality nor cast my view into futurity” (121:3-4, E 390). Near the end of the speech, Blake’s first version includes this emphatic dismissal of memory: 2 Erdman textual note, p. 844.

Then Go O dark remembrance I will cast thee forth from these
Heavens of my brain nor will I look upon remembrance more
I cast remembrance away & turn my back upon that void
Which I have made for lo remembrance is in this moment
(121:19-22, E 390)2
In revising, he carefully went through the speech and replaced “remembrance” in each line with “futurity.”

Blake’s change of opinion about these lines, whenever it occurred, indicates that he had some difficulty with this crucial moment of repentence. Should Urizen repent of having looked into the past, or into the future? The final version shifts blame from memory to anxiety about the future. As we shall discover, the mental act which the poem originally repents of ultimately returns as a principal redemptive power. But Urizen’s or Blake’s confusion at this moment serves as a clue to some temporal difficulties in The Four Zoas. If there is a single, dominating temporal theme in the poem, it has to do with the persistent significance of what has come before: the future will repeat the past, but only according to how the past is understood. To investigate this theme more carefully, we need to move backward somewhat from the conclusive Night IX, and consider Night VIIa. At this stage of the narrative, Blake made a series of revisions which he considered indispensable to the progress of his epic. But the task of interpreting Night VIIa is made much harder—if more urgent—by textual problems which have perplexed and divided Blake’s editors.

The chronology of Nights VIIa and VIIb has received much attention, and lingering uncertainties about this double Night have made production of an FZ text difficult. The controversy over how to treat these two Night VII’s has just reached a new stage with the publication of Erdman’s 1982 edition, which installs a Night VII radically different from the version he originally presented. In 1965, Erdman used only VIIa in the sequence of Nights, and relegated VIIb to an appendix. Other scholars objected to this treatment of VIIb, maintaining that the poem needs the material in that Night, and gradually refined their ideas about where to put it. Three of them published theories in 1978 which all suggested the same general chronology—that Blake wrote the first part of VIIa, then VIIb, and finally some late additions to VIIa—and proposed new ways of ordering the text.33 All three articles appear in Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 46 (Fall 1978): John Kilgore, “The Order of Nights VIIa and VIIb in Blake’s The Four Zoas,” pp. 107-13; Andrew Lincoln, “The Revision of the Seventh and Eighth Nights of The Four Zoas,” pp. 115-33; and Mark Lefebvre, “A Note on the Structural Necessity of Night VIIb,” p. 134. Two of these three proposals called for separating VIIa into two parts and inserting VIIb in between. Erdman in his new edition has adopted one of these proposals, although with some reservations,44 In his headnote concerning the new arrangement of the text, Erdman cautions that “Blake might have thought to discard VIIb, but he did not do so; it contains passages needed in The Four Zoas, somewhere. But their disposition remains an editorial problem, with no instructions from the author” (p. 836). and thus established a version of Night VII with the old VIIa pulled apart in the middle.

For those who have grown accustomed to the old VIIa, and react with some alarm to its Zoa-like crisis of division, there may be more grounds for objection than mere nostalgia. The following discussion of memory in Night VIIa will eventually offer some interpretive justification for considering VIIa in one piece, even though it appears to have been written in at least two different stages. Whatever its relation to VIIb, Blake clearly concentrated on making VIIa a turning point in developing the apocalypse of Night IX. Twice he “ends” the Night, then decides to reopen it, as if he recognized that the enthusiastic conclusion of the epic still lacked some important preparation. The second and final edition—and perhaps a very late one—begins with a surprising appreciation of memory.55 According to Erdman, pp. 838-39, the first ending to VIIa would have come after 85:22, where Blake wrote in “End of the Seventh Night.” Blake then erased this, and wrote nine additional lines, which introduce the union of Los and the Spectre. Below these he again wrote “The End of the Seventh Night”; only to erase it once more, and add the remaining 157 lines of the Night. The Spectre’s speech about “the Gates of Memory” begins this final addition. In order to understand the powers and dangers of this faculty in The Four Zoas, we must consider in some detail how memory works in begin page 197 | back to top Night VIIa.

The obvious ambition of The Four Zoas is to find a passage into eternal life, and in Night VIIa Blake forces his poem to study the means of passage as an urgent problem. The Spectre of Urthona twice announces the need for an entry into eternity; in both cases he calls for a backward movement, for a re-passage or return:

For till these terrors planted round the Gates of Eternal life
Are driven away & annihilated we never can repass the Gates
(84:41-42, E 360)

Thou never canst embrace sweet Enitharmon terrible Demon. Till
Thou art united with thy Spectre Consummating by pains & labours
That mortal body & by Self annihilation back returning
To Life Eternal
(85:32-35, E 368)
Those “Gates of Eternal life” modulate into “the Gates of Enitharmon’s heart” (85:13, E 360), and finally into “the Gates of Memory”: “Unbar the Gates of Memory look upon me / Not as another but as they real Self” (85:37-38, E 368). If the gates of memory really deserve comparison with the gates of eternal life, a number of terrors must first be driven away from the concept of memory.

In its search for the one telling cause of human disorder, The Four Zoas finds not that explanations are hard to come by, but that they appear in all too plentiful a supply. The Four Zoas contains too many versions of the fall of the Ancient Man.66 Interpreters of The Four Zoas have only fairly recently begun to study the many versions of the fall with much consideration for their specific dramatic and psychological contexts. Helen T. McNeil, in “The Formal Art of The Four Zoas” (Erdman and Grant, eds., Blake’s Visionary Forms Dramatic [Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1973]), offers a basic interpretive guideline: “The Zoas themselves posit radically different pasts according to the emotions of the present” (p. 385). David Wagenknecht in Blake’s Night: William Blake and the Idea of Pastoral (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973) finds in some of the accounts interesting similarities with earlier Blake poems (he pays particular attention to the Shadow’s narrative, which he compares to Thel and to Visions of the Daughters of Albion). In “The Dialogues as Interpretive Focus in Blake’s The Four Zoas” (Philological Quarterly 56 [1977], pp. 221-39), Victoria Myers emphasizes how the dramatic situation contributes to differences in the various tellings, and assumes that “none of the tellings is ‘true’ (except perhaps the last); rather, each telling adds (and subtracts) various details in the events of the Fall” (p. 230). Johnson and Wilkie in Blake’s Four Zoas: The Design of a Dream (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1978) respect the differences among the several renditions in their reading of the poem, and they include an appendix which lists and summarizes ten versions. Leslie Brisman’s chapter on Blake in Romantic Origins (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1978) takes the five major accounts and offers intricate psychological readings; his work represents the most intensive investigation along these lines to date. Christine Gallant in Blake and the Assimilation of Chaos (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1978) also makes some use of the different versions, although not as much as one might expect given her approach to Blake. Most of them enter the poem as narratives of remembered experience spoken by one of the Zoas or their Emanations; two are delivered by choric groups—“the Demons of the Deep” (14:7-16:12, E 308-09), and some “messengers from Beulah” (21:16-19:5, E 311-12)—and the epic narrator also contributes in his own voice. The final two such narratives occur in Night VIIa, the first given by the Shadow of Enitharmon, the second by the Spectre of Urthona. Studied in relation to the memory-narratives which precede them, and in context with the dramatic situation that surrounds them, these stories of the fall suggest several ways in which memory may be viewed as an obstruction to eternity.

Perhaps the most degraded form of memory in The Four Zoas is that which provides the foundation for revenge. Revenge depends upon an act of temporal distortion: a phenomenon of the past is abstracted from the temporal continuum and, frozen into fixed identity, assumes a hyperbolic, preemptive significance. Memory as the tool of revenge establishes the past as a permanent and separate state, and invites a cyclic pattern of human interaction. Enitharmon’s Shadow concludes her account of the fall in Night VIIa with this vengeful message:

But thou Spectre dark
Maist find a way to punish Vala in thy fiery South
To bring her down subjected to the rage of my fierce boy
(83:32-34, E 359)
The Shadow’s call for revenge seems a petty gesture, reducing a complex story to a single enemy and a simple solution—but not really a solution, just a moment of relief. She has drawn from her memory a source of injury, Vala, and fixed her with a punishable identity. When we juxtapose this with Enitharmon’s first narrative memory, her “Song of Death” in Night I, the vengeful memory of Enitharmon’s Shadow seems highly suspicious: in that first version, delivered for different purposes, Enitharmon presents herself as being mysteriously inside Vala—“For in the visions of Vala I walked with the mighty Fallen One” (10:15, E 305). The identities of Vala and Enitharmon are not as distinct and separable as the vengeful memory would make them appear.

The Shadow’s call for revenge, on the surface a gesture toward futurity, actually shows how the past can return in concealment. Apparently without knowing it, she repeats a crucial event in the original crisis she has just described. She asks the Spectre to bring down Vala to her “fierce boy,” Orc. The Shadow doesn’t seem to know what Urizen has just discovered in Night VIIa, that Orc is really Luvah. If we take this into account, the Shadow in effect wants to punish Vala by pairing Vala and Luvah. In the crisis story she has just related, the Eternal Man’s fall first becomes apparent when he sees Luvah and Vala as separate forms:

Then behold a wonder to the Eyes
Of the now fallen Man a double form Vala appeard. A Male
And female shuddring pale the Fallen Man recoild
From the Enormity & calld them Luvah & Vala
(83:13-16, E 358)

The Shadow’s plans to punish Vala amount to a recreation of the first scene perceived by the Eternal Man in his fallen state. Her vengeful motives, which come to light after she has finished her story, give us a better idea of what that scene meant to the Eternal Man. His seeing Vala divide into a male and a female might well have originated in a fear of Vala’s power over him, and an attendant feeling of jealousy. This fear expresses itself in a rival male, now seen as a competitor and a threat. Like the Shadow, the Eternal Man must have wanted to punish Vala, and paired Vala and Luvah in order to make that possible. This speculation about the Eternal Man’s motives has not been based on the Shadow’s narrated remembrance of eternity, for there she gave no hint of any motivation; it has come from her repetition of this event, which provides more revealing emotional information. Interpreters of the Zoas need to keep Freud’s 1914 statement in mind: “We may say that the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it, without, of course, begin page 198 | back to top knowing that he is repeating it.”77 “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through,” in Standard Edition, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1957), XII, 150.

The Spectre of Urthona answers his shadowy companion by approving of her plan for revenge, although he intends to punish a different victim:

I labour night & day for Los but listen thou my vision
I view futurity in thee I will bring down soft Vala
To the embraces of this terror & I will destroy
That body I created then shall we unite again in bliss
(84:32-35, E 359)
The Spectre also finds it convenient to reduce a difficult question of identity to simple terms. This wish for revenge brings to a conclusion what his narrative has been trying to accomplish, the establishment of Los as a separate and inimical identity. The Spectre’s narrative raises so many problems that his final gesture of revenge cannot stand as an acceptable answer; in lines Blake added he begins to complicate the issue of his relationship with Los.

The Spectre’s vengefulness creates a suspicious future—“I view futurity in thee”—based on a past that is still obscure. He has just remembered for the Shadow his version of the fall. At the moment when he recounts his own particular catastrophe, the narrative becomes too condensed, his memory too dark. “I was divided in darkness & oblivion,” he tells her, offering no more than this brief, passive explanation. When the Spectre calls for revenge against Los at the end of his speech, he reveals more about his self-division by this present action than we could ever get directly from his memory-narrative. As at the end of the Shadow’s story, the Spectre’s vengeful message repeats more revealingly a crisis which he had remembered only obscurely.

This first discussion of memory has considered it as a prerequisite to revenge, but only in the sense of an immediate, efficient cause. Underneath the simple reductions or distortions necessary for revenge lie more fundamental psychological manipulations. Memory constructs fictions of responsibility and priority which make acts of power (including revenge) possible. The Shadow of Enitharmon wishes to make Luvah responsible for the crisis of the fall:

But Luvah close conferrd with Urizen in darksom night
To bind the father & enslave the brethren Nought he knew
Of sweet Eternity the blood flowd round the holy tent & rivn
From its hinges uttering its final groan all Beulah fell
In dark confusion mean time Los was born & Enitharmon
But how I know not then forgetfulness quite wrapd me up
A period nor do I more remember till I stood
Beside Los in the Cavern dark enslavd to vegetative forms
According to the Will of Luvah who assumd the Place
Of the Eternal Man & smote him
(83:23-32, E 358-59)

The Shadow’s memory is confusing because it becomes progressively more reductive. She begins by describing the collusion of Luvah and Urizen in a plot to ruin Albion, but presents only a very obscure[e] account of what went on. It is at first quite impossible to determine the antecedent of “he” in 83:24: whom has she singled out for his ignorance of eternity? From what she has already said in this narrative, it could easily apply to Urizen, Luvah, or Albion: Albion’s senses have dulled, Urizen has somehow forgotten eternity, and Luvah has conferred with Urizen. As she continues, it begins to appear that Luvah is her intended antecedent, because the shedding of blood has elsewhere been associated with him. Even after this clue, her confident assertion at the end, blaming the usurping will of Luvah, must come as a surprise. The Shadow’s narrative begins with a rather complex version of the fall, which seems to have accumulated fragments from the many renditions already given. She proceeds to clarify her account by emphasizing Luvah’s role; she concludes this clarification only after emerging from that shroud of forgetfulness that darkens the middle of her narrative. Once the Shadow has crossed this temporal gap, she has a greater power to simplify. The further away from eternity she gets, the clearer her memory becomes. After passing through the dark mist of forgetfulness, Enitharmon’s Shadow has a clear idea of her own identity and how it was formed: she is a vegetated slave, and Luvah brought this about.

The poem as a whole provides some basis for speculation about her motives, if the distinction between Enitharmon and her Shadow can momentarily be set aside. Since the Shadow proceeds directly from Enitharmon, it seems legitimate to consider Enitharmon and her Shadow as sharing a continuous history. In managing her relationship with Los, Enitharmon has found that an alliance with Urizen can be very useful. Enitharmon’s “Song of Death” in Night I is really a song about enslavement: in that first narrative memory she successfully oppresses Los with the opinion that he has very little real power. In her fallen state, Enitharmon’s main goal is to convince Los of his vegetative enslavement, and when he begins to collapse in despair, to comfort him with the restorative powers at her command. Enitharmon invokes Urizen as her patron, since Urizen stands as the great model for those who wish to acknowledge enslavement, and consider pity the best way to cope with that condition. The narrative version of the fall given in Night VIIa by Enitharmon’s Shadow coincides with this Urizenic psychology. She needs an external enemy, Luvah, whose irreparable crime has committed man to slavery, and she has some interest in protecting Urizen from equal partnership in this violation.

If the Shadow creates a fiction of responsibility, the Spectre creates a fiction of priority. The Spectre reveals that he created Los as a temporary stay against oblivion, during the disastrous moments of the fall. From what follows in Night VIIa we have good reason to consider this a highly suspicious claim: the Spectre and Los will begin page 199 | back to top eventually agree on a version of their eternal relationship which contradicts the Spectre’s first story. It appears that the Spectre, unhappy with being under Los’s control, has constructed a memory to reverse this relationship. Yet the Spectre’s narrative should not be dismissed quite so simply as wishful fabrication. His account of a sudden plunge down veinlike rivers into darkness and division coincides with many versions of the fall already given, and the emotional force of his crisis commands a certain respect. A crisis of separation stands as the most basic fact for all these narratives of the fall, always attended by some sort of fading, darkness, or forgetfulness. Emerging from the shroud of forgetfulness surrounding her own crisis of division, the Shadow of Enitharmon created a reductive memory to suit the needs of her current situation. Similarly, the Spectre of Urthona traces back to that moment of darkness, and, once on the other side of it, fashions a memory which is useful for the psychological politics of his present state.

So far we have seen memory act as an obstruction to eternity in two related ways. As a tool of revenge, it motivates humans to struggle with a past which they will continually repeat, whether they recognize the repetition or not. It also introduces willful distortions of the past intended to increase present power. There are two other types of obstruction to consider which have different implications. In both of these aspects, memory hinders or weakens rather than empowers its agent.

The first might be called the Beulah fallacy. A narrator falls into the Beulah fallacy when he yearns for what seems to be his earliest memory, a prelapsarian pastoral paradise. He remembers the past as an ideal antithesis to the present troubled or vacant state; he cherishes the memory for what comfort it can afford. Nostalgia always yields pleasure mixed in with its pain of return, because the lost past comes alive with new emotional significance. The easy emotions of sentimental memory poetry come directly from this source. In analyzing such memories, one wants to know whether they represent a longing for a condition which once existed but has been irretrievably lost, or whether this golden age never existed at all except in the nostalgic memory. When Los says to Enitharmon, “I know thee not as once I knew thee in those blessed fields / Where memory wishes to repose among the flocks of Tharmas” (34:39-40, E 323), we may wish to fault him for languishing in a memory of the irretrievable past; but at least Los’s memory refers to his experience as a child as the poem has previously described it. When the Spectre of Urthona talks about “the mild fields of happy Eternity,” the status of that paradise is not at all clear.

The Spectre said. Thou lovely Vision this delightful Tree
Is given us for a Shelter from the tempests of Void & Solid
Till once again the morn of ages shall renew upon us
To reunite in those mild fields of happy Eternity
Where thou & I in undivided Essence walkd about
Imbodied. thou my garden of delight & I the spirit in the garden
Mutual there we dwelt in one anothers joy revolving
Days of Eternity with Tharmas mild & Luvah sweet melodious
Upon our waters. This thou well rememberest listen I will tell
What thou forgettest
(84: 1-9, E 359)

The Spectre’s remarks seem suspicious from the start, since he cherishes the Tree of Mystery as a “delightful” protection; what he needs protection from soon becomes apparent. Lines five and six raise an important question. Does the Spectre mean to say that Urthona and Enitharmon exist in eternity as two or as one? If the phrase “thou & I” can be excused as the only way for the Spectre to express “undivided essence” in a fallen state, the next line still causes problems: “thou my garden of delight & I the spirit in the garden.” His memory seems colored with an ineradicable distinction between spirit and matter. The Spectre considers the Tree of Mystery “a shelter from the tempests of void and solid”: “void and solid” suggests a separation analogous to spirit and matter, and further implicates the Spectre in a powerfully ordinary metaphysical dualism. Such dualism gave rise to various “mysterious” explanations among philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whose attempts to analyze the communicability of spirit and matter led to radical skepticism. The Spectre’s narrative of his original crisis, in which he describes himself “scorning the frail body” in a “deformed form,” reveals that he has considerable trouble with embodiment. The Spectre seems entirely in the grip of a dualistic mystery, even though his speech purports to describe an undivided prior state. This contradiction at the heart of his remembrance suggests that “the mild fields of happy Eternity” may not have been as simple as he wishes to remember.

Another problem arises when the Spectre tells Enitharmon’s Shadow, “This thou well rememberest.” The memory to which he refers must be the Shadow’s narrative just delivered. A glance at her account reveals that the earliest state she can remember happens to be Beulah. “Among the Flowers of Beulah walked the Eternal Man,” she begins, and later describes Urizen growing up “in the plains of Beulah” (83:7, 19, E 358). These two pastoral settings constitute the only aspects of the Shadow’s memory to which the Spectre might refer when he tells her that she, like him, remembers eternity. The Spectre has put into question his own vision of eternity by equating it with explicit references to Beulah. Wherever it occurs in The Four Zoas, the Beulah fallacy suggests a danger: it tempts one to withdraw from redemptive struggles, and repose in a lulling but incomplete image of eternity.88 In describing the Beulah fallacy, I do not mean to deny that pastoral imagery can be a source of redemptive power in Blake. David Wagenknecht has treated the subject most thoroughly: in Blake’s Night he discusses the poetry in terms of Richard Cody’s “idea of pastoral”—that this-worldliness[e] and otherworldiness can be reconciled, and that a truly cultivated man, whatever his intimations of divinity, may find a natural human voice” (quoted in Wagenknecht, p. 12)—and finds in pastoral Beulah a place where “man carries the image of paradise within the careful simplicities of the human heart” (p. 212). My concern is for an oversimplifying process in which the human heart becomes an excuse for sluggish imagination. As Wagenknecht recognizes, any sophisticated notion of pastoral must confront a discrepancy between the ideal proposed and the imagery available for expressing it. When the pastoral looks backwards, and the ideal becomes accessible only through memory as an antithesis to the present state, the Beulah imagery is liable to obstruct rather than stimulate imaginative growth.

Nostalgic repose in a lost paradise constitutes one use of memory which brings about a loss of power. A begin page 200 | back to top second such aspect of memory ends less in repose than in frustration and torment. When a Zoa remembers what seems an original, ultimate crisis, his mind becomes blocked; in tracing back to a single terrible moment, he arrives at a static configuration of values, which means a visionary impasse. This blocking takes two forms. When consciousness of ruin or loss is accompanied by a sense of free will, the impasse appears as a feeling of guilt; when it is not so accompanied, it takes the form of a victim-complex, the conviction that one is more sinned against than sinning.

The character in The Four Zoas most dominated by a sense of guilt is Urizen. Urizen’s lament in the dens of Urthona (Night V) expresses this burden in interesting mythological terms. The main source appears to be Paradise Lost: Urizen remembers his guilty past in a narrative that brings to mind Satan’s jealousy over God’s elevation of the Son to special prominence in heaven. Urizen’s guilt usually expresses itself in fear, a fear of futurity. Night VIIa repesents the climax to the story of Urizen and Luvah/Orc. Throughout the poem Urizen has suffered with an obsessive fear of the future; in Night VIIa, as he finally confronts the particular object of his fear, the newborn Orc, he finds out that this fear of the future has really been a fear of the past: “Terrified Urizen heard Orc now certain that he was Luvah” (80:43, E 356). At this point in the plot of The Four Zoas, the two choices in Urizen’s Night IX speech of repentance come together. Futurity now appears as the past happening again.

The scene between Urizen and Orc concludes with Orc’s admission of guilt:

I well remember how I stole thy light & it became fire
Consuming. Thou Knowst me now O Urizen Prince of Light
And I know thee is this the triumph this the Godlike State
That lies beyond the bounds of Science in the Grey obscure
(80:39-42, E 356)
Orc’s memory traces its way back to an original disruptive event, and at this point the discussion ends—the story of Urizen and Orc has reached a standstill. At this moment of guilty recognition—“Thou Knowst me now . . . and I know thee”—Orc and Urizen believe that they cannot change the determining past. Memory becomes just a means of discovering again the source of the impasse. Urizen’s fear of the future now appears to have been a way of masking or hiding from this memory knowledge, which is the more dreadful of the two, since it does not offer the comfort of apparent control.

Orc claims to speak both for himself and for Urizen when he ridicules the failure of their attempt to achieve a “Godlike State / That lies beyond the bounds of Science.” We have heard several narratives which attribute the fall to a collaborative effort of usurpation on the part of Urizen and Luvah. Now, for the first time, a motive comes to the surface. One recognizes the other with a cynical admission of mutual failure. The surprise of this climactic scene lies in its demonstration that Urizen and Orc, for all their overt hostility and mutual resistance, actually cooperate with each other. Orc finds himself rising “in peace unbound / From wrath” (80:29-30, E 356) after Urizen’s sermon, because Urizen has assimilated him into a vision of a lustful, brutish world of devouring appetites. The static opposition of Urizen and Orc sustains a world in which desire knows itself to be chained, and reason suppresses desire in fear of its chained fury. Locked into their belligerent partnership, the two “guilty” Zoas share both an original crisis and a current torment.

If Urizen and Luvah are the guilty Zoas, Urthona and Tharmas see themselves as their victims. The Spectre of Urthona’s narrative in Night VIIa reaches a moment of blocking in his passive account of an original crisis. “I was divided”:

descending down I sunk along
The goary tide even to the place of seed & there dividing
I was divided in darkness and oblivion
(84:20-22, E 359)
As in the Shadow of Enitharmon’s narrative, which falls into a “dark confusion” of forgetfulness just before her account of birth into vegetative life, the Spectre’s memory darkens at the moment of traumatic birth. As the sentence changes from active to passive voice, the remembered scene turns suddenly from day into night. The Spectre’s obscure passivity protects him from any feelings of guilt—“Ah poor divided dark Urthona,” he laments—but it also leaves him powerless. In order to remedy this impotence, the Spectre finds an oppressor whom he can conveniently blame—Los—and plots revenge.

Thus we return to revenge: the fallen uses of memory have come full circle. As the Spectre’s narrative concludes, the only gate of entry into eternity which memory has provided seems most inadequate: “I will destroy / That body I created then shall we unite again in bliss” (84:34-35, E 359). The Spectre makes a hollow-sounding wish for the future, based on a sense of the past which suffers from all the distortions and obstructions we have examined. Night VIIa has wound down to a depressing, static conclusion. But in fact the poem is just reaching the place where Blake found an opportunity to revise it toward redemption. In a late addition, after Blake had “ended” the Night (at 85:22), Los and the Spectre will join in a surprising embrace. As Johnson and Wilkie have suggested, this abrupt reversal cannot be accounted for by any single, determining motivation, “Undeniably, Blake leaves an area of disjunction between despair and recovery, something not spelled out for us.”99 “The Spectrous Embrace in The Four Zoas VIIa” in Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 46 (Fall 1978), p. 102. Thus warned against naive belief in a total explanation, we can still learn much about begin page 201 | back to top the change by studying what happens to the Spectre during the last passages of the first Night VIIa.

Blake first wrote the end of the Spectre’s tale as follows:

I view futurity in thee I will bring down soft Vala
To the embraces of this terror & I will destroy
That body I created then shall we unite again in bliss
For till these terrors planted round the Gates of Eternal life
Are driven away & annihilated we never can repass the Gates
(84:33-42, E 360-61)
But at some point he inserted these lines after “unite again in bliss”:
Thou knowest that the Spectre is in Every Man insane brutish
Deformed that I am thus a ravening devouring lust continually
Craving & devouring but my Eyes are always upon thee O lovely
Delusion & I cannot crave for any thing but thee & till
I have thee in my arms & am again united to Los
To be one body & One Spirit with him not so
The spectres of the Dead for I am as the Spectre of the Living
(84:36-40, italicized portion later deleted)
The inserted lines are interesting because they seem to prepare for the union of Los and the Spectre in one obvious and another subtler way. The obvious link is provided by the Spectre’s wish to unite with Los. (Blake may have deleted these lines partly because, given the late additions, he no longer considered them necessary.)1010 Erdman points out that a more obvious reason for deletion is to avoid interference with the other “till” clause of line 41 (textual note, p. 837). The subtler way these lines prepare for the union has to do with the last version of obstructive memory discussed above. There, the Spectre saw himself as a victim of Urizen and Orc; in the first three inserted lines, he begins to consider that he must share the guilt for this state of ruin. And thus, as we shall consider shortly, he establishes a theme for his union with Los.

It seems plausible that Blake added these lines in an attempt to figure out his feelings about the Spectre, whose contradictory urges to destroy and to unite make both his relationship with Los and his place in the redemptive plot of The Four Zoas uncertain. Blake had trouble deciding whether to condemn the Spectre or redeem him. The inserted lines (along with some other minor changes)1111 In “The Spectre smild & gave her charge over the howling Orc” (85:22, E 360), Blake replaces “smild &” with “terrified,” thus making the Spectre less a villain. He similarly changes “sweet” to “dark” in the preceding line (Erdman textual note, p. 837). help make the Spectre a more sympathetic character, since he recognizes his own deformity and is alarmed by it. When Blake decides to make substantial additions to VIIa introducing the Los-Spectre union, he seems to be carrying on this work of redefining the Spectre. For this reason, Night VIIa, whatever the chronological advantages of the new text, still deserves to be considered in its former undivided state. Even if, as seems very likely, Blake wrote the last parts of VIIa after the first part of VIIa and all of VIIb, he was evidently attending to the continuity at hand when he added on to p. 85. In the first added lines, Los embraces the Spectre just after “Enitharmon told the tale / Of Urthona” (85:28-29): this clearly refers to the Spectre’s memory-narrative of p. 84, and indicates that the best transition to the late additions, as well as the key to this redemptive plot, lies in the memory work of VIIa.1212 I do not intend this argument as an urgent call to change The Four Zoas text yet again: I can see the reasons for the new arrangement, and, moreover, can propose no alternative solution for the placement of VIIb. But in showing interpretive reasons for considering VIIa as a whole piece, I hope to make the point that a “finished” text of The Four Zoas may not be possible, and that in depending too heavily on one arrangement we risk obscuring certain interpretive possibilities.

As mentioned above, the Spectre signals a different use of memory in the lines Blake inserted. When he calls himself “insane brutish / Deformd,” “a ravening devouring lust continually / Craving & devouring,” he seems to be reinterpreting the story he has just finished remembering. The Spectre in his confession recognizes himself as the essence of deformation. In his tale, his “masculine spirit scorning the frail body” wandered “in this deformed form” as a mental traveler. His perception is founded on an inescapable knowledge of creative failure, and he knows himself a victim of the reality principle, which his “ravening devouring lust” vainly attempts to overcome. The Spectre means many things in different Blakean contexts, but everywhere he represents a deforming power—whether spoiling works of art, relationships, or equanamity—which somehow persists as an integral part of the imaginative process. Blake has trouble deciding what to do with the Spectre,1313 Another indication of Blake’s difficulties with Spectral material is that he wasn’t even sure whether to include in his text the inserted lines of confession (“Thou knowest that the Spectre is in Every Man insane brutish,” etc.). As Erdman points out, “Blake’s line count on this page, ‘292 or 297,’ indicates a moment when he was undecided whether to keep or drop the five lines” (p. 837). If this moment of indecision came after the late additions, he may have wondered whether they were too harsh a judgment on the character now united with Los; or whether they were in fact necessary to convey how dangerous such a union must be. whether to reject him or reform him or accept him as is, but evidently Los needs him if he is to perform the works of eternity.

Los ultimately answers the Spectre’s admission of guilt with a confession of his own: “Now I feel the weight of stern repentance. . . . I also tremble at myself & at all my former life” (87:39, 51, E 369). The guilt discovered by Los and the Spectre differs from Urizen’s and Orc’s obstructive kind in that it will become a dynamic revisionary force rather than a disabling belief that the past cannot be changed. This new sense of memory finally enters the poem when, between their parallel confessions, the Spectre urges Los to join with him as a brother:

Unbar the Gates of Memory look upon me
Not as another but as thy real Self I am thy Spectre
Tho horrible & Ghastly to thine Eyes tho buried beneath
The ruins of the Universe.
(85:37-40, E 368)
Since Los finds this realization immensely inspiring—he begins to feel a “World within / Opening its gates” (86:7-8, E 368)—it now seems that the gates of memory have opened onto eternity. Los recognizes that the Spectre is part of himself. The Spectral vision, with its dangerous knowledge of deformation, constitutes a part of Los’s identity which he has heretofore repressed. Los has defended himself against the Spectral component of his identity in order to escape its attendant guilt. As he receives the Spectre into his bosom, Los performs a striking act of memory: in its most important Blakean meaning, to remember means to make in the present an act of judgment about your identity—to recognize what belongs to you, to find or find again what has been forgotten or repressed. Epic remembering is a re-membering begin page 202 | back to top of the repression-maimed Zoas.

Freud’s idea of repression, originally associated with his studies of amnesic forgetting, gradually takes on a more general meaning. Repression and defense blend together into a single principle of psychological motivation, indispensable to psychoanalytic theory.1414 Peter Madison argues persuasively that when Freud all but abandoned his use of the term “defense” (he used it very sparingly between 1900 and 1926), he endowed “repression” with all the general meanings suggested by the neglected “defense.” See Freud’s Concept of Repression and Defense: Its Theoretical and Observational Language (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1961). Freud gives his only explicit definition of the term in a 1915 article: “The essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious.”1515 Standard Edition, XIV, 147. Repression in its more general sense does not stray very far from its original specific meaning. As a forgetting or as a turning away, repression serves to protect the psyche from traumatic memories.1616 Diana Hume George in Blake and Freud (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1980) emphasizes the lusting, power-hungry side of repression rather than the protecting one, and proposes a Blakean translation: “ ‘Negation’ is Blake’s word for ‘repression,’ and at the root of that repression is a ravaging lust for power, the Spectre that is at bottom utterly devoid of ‘reasonableness’ ” (p. 179). I like the translation, as long as it is understood that repression is not simply the work of the Spectre or Spectral characters, or that it always comes in the service of a lust for power. When Los unbars his gates of memory, it would appear that he has successfully abandoned his protection, and gained access to a more authentic self.

The theory is enticing, but too simple. Freud sets out to free men from the power of repression, but his work does not clearly affirm that such a project is possible, or even desirable. In its search for primal motivations, psychoanalysis may conduct an interminable struggle with one hypothetical origin after another. The process may succeed only in repeating again and again the constitutive symptoms of neurosis. Even in its most successful performance, psychoanalysis may lead to nothing more than a depressing awareness that humans can gain psychic health only at the expense of some attractive benefits of repression, that Orc and Urizen must remain enemies.

Night VIIa does not conclude as Los opens up the gates of memory and embraces the Spectre. The guilt which he invites in thus remembering himself does not vanish into transcendent bliss. Immediately following the scene of union between Los and the Spectre, Blake introduces an account of the fall according to Genesis and Paradise Lost, with Los and Enitharmon as Adam and Eve. Los’s great act of memory does not provide a way to circumvent the “Cares and Sorrows and Troubles” (87:27, E 369) that his new identity brings. As the poem lingers around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it almost seems as though memory’s triumph in this case represents just another defeat for the imagination longing for return to an eternal state. But Los insists that this is not the case. Comforting Enitharmon, he feels an earnest desire “to fabricate embodied semblances in which the dead / May live before us in our palaces and in our gardens of labour”1717 Blake originally wrote, “ . . . and in our gardens of pleasure” (Erdman, p. 839); the change to “Labour” indicates that the union with the Spectre must not be confused with a strictly Beulah-like world. In this same passage, he also changed the following phrases: “world of life & love” becomes “world of Sacrifice” (90:12); “O lovely Los” becomes “O lovely terrible Los” (90:16); “fabricate sweet forms” becomes “fabricate forms sublime” (90:22). (90:9-10, E 370).

In the passage which follows, Los begins to draw sublime forms, combining in his newly expanded spirit the fires of Orc and the boundary-setting power of Urizen:

So Enitharmon spoke & Los his hands divine inspired began
To modulate his fires studious the loud roaring flames
He vanquished with the strength of Art bending their iron points
And drawing them forth delighted upon the winds of Golgonooza
(90:25-8, E 370)
Los’s drawing is an act of judgment, and in the crucial meaning described above, an act of remembrance: as Los outlines the separate forms of Urizen, he decides which aspects of Urizen to recognize as redeemable identity, and which to leave behind as alien and delusive. Los, in effect, remembers that he loves Urizen:
Startled was Los he found his Enemy Urizen now
In his hands. he wonderd that he felt love & not hate
His whole soul loved him he beheld him an infant
Lovely breathd from Enitharmon he trembled within himself
(90:64-7, E 371)
In his moment of confession, Los “trembles” at himself, and at all his former life. Los’s drawing of Urizen constitutes another confessional tremble, another expansion of his identity to embrace a lost relative.

Psychoanalysis in its most depressing form effects a reduction rather than an expansion of human identity. As the slang term suggests, its function is to shrink. Reductive psychoanalysis succeeds only in making the patient aware of a secret debt to the past, over which he can have little or no control. Expansive or Blakean psychoanalysis also depends on memory, but in a different sense. Although the past remains as a signifying power, the patient is not enslaved to an inert set of primal conditions. The act of remembering as re-membering does not passively reproduce what has come before. It constitutes a creative judgment, happening now, in which the past and present mutually inform each other: it makes as much sense to say that the present determines the past as that the past determines the present.

Perhaps the most convincing memories of eternity in The Four Zoas occur in two brief statements near the end of Night VIIa. Inviting Los to unite with him, the Spectre says: “Thou didst subdue me in old times by thy Immortal Strength. . . . hear what inspird I speak & be silent” (85:39, 42, E 368). Los, poised to begin his drawing, feels that “my fires enlume afresh / Before my face ascending with delight as in ancient times” (90:13-14, E 370). Both memories refer to an eternity much different from Beulah repose, and come to the surface in direct resemblance to the present situation. The ancient past enters the memory only to the extent that the present mind can understand it. As Los performs in the present strong acts of judgment and creation, he can remember the eternal past as a time of imaginative struggle.

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of New Mexico
  • Albuquerque, NM, USA
    • Editors
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Bibliographer
    • Thomas L. Minnick
    • Review Editor
    • Nelson Hilton
    • Associate Editor for Great Britain
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Production Office
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Thomas L. Minnick
    • Nelson Hilton
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Managing Editor
    • Robin Tawney
    • Editorial Assistants
    • Leslie Donovan
    • Contributors
    • G.E. Bentley, Jr.
    • Robert N. Essick
    • Wayne Glausser
    • Jean H. Hagstrum
    • Nelson Hilton
    • Paul Mann
    • Alicia Ostriker
    • Morton D. Paley
    • David Simpson

    Digital Edition

    • Editors:
    • Morris Eaves, University of Rochester
    • Robert Essick, University of California, Riverside
    • Joseph Viscomi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Project Manager
    • Joe Fletcher
    • Technical Editor
    • Michael Fox
    • Previous Project Manager and Technical Editor
    • William Shaw
    • Project Director
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Coordinator, UNC:
    • Natasha Smith, Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Project Coordinator, University of Rochester:
    • Sarah Jones
    • Scanning:
    • UNC Digital Production Center
    • XML Encoding:
    • Apex CoVantage
    • Additional Transcription:
    • Adam McCune
    • Jennifer Park
    • Emendations:
    • Rachael Isom
    • Mary Learner
    • Adam McCune
    • Ashley Reed
    • Jennifer Park
    • Scott Robinson
    • XSLT Development:
    • Adam McCune
    • Joseph Ryan
    • William Shaw
    • PHP and Solr Development:
    • Michael Fox
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Assistants:
    • Lauren Cameron,
    • Rachael Isom,
    • Mary Learner,
    • Jennifer Park,
    • Ashley Reed,
    • Adair Rispoli,
    • Scott Robinson
    • Sponsors
    • Funders
    • Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly
    • William Blake Archive
    • Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Use Restrictions
    • Copyright © 2015 Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, all rights reserved. Items in this digital edition may be shared in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Redistribution or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires express written consent from the editors and advance notification of the publisher. Permission to reproduce the graphic images in this digital edition rests with the owning institutions.