As a change of pace today, I took a look at my old copy of Blake’s Poetry and Designs, and in a time when people seem to be fighting about which religion is the one true religion, this piece called out to me.
I feel that the first line is a subtitle and deserves a closer look: “The Voice of one crying in the Wilderness.” Voice and Wilderness are both capitalized which signals that they represent something larger. The Voice appears to represent the Poetic Genius which Blake claims to be “the true Man.” He continues by asserting that “the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic
Genius. Likewise that the forms of all things are derived from
their Genius, which by the Ancients was call’d an Angel & Spirit
& Demon.” Blake appears to be referring to the Platonic concept of the forms, particularly as expressed by Plotinus and Proclus, who asserted that all that exists were emanated from the divine source. Personally, I feel that Blake is also drawing on the imagery of Adam Kadmon, which, according to Jewish mysticism, was the divine form from which God created the first human. Finally, the Voice of the Poetic Genius could be interpreted as the Divine Consciousness that is within all of us.
So then what is the Wilderness? On one level, the Wilderness could be seen as the material plane on which we exist. But I suspect that there is more. I see the Wilderness as a representation of the darker side of our internal psyche, our baser selves which keep us from acknowledging the divinity that exists within all of us. Trapped inside of us is the Voice, screaming to be recognized and to move to the forefront of our being. For me, this is the essence of what Blake was expressing.
In Principle 5, Blake writes: “The Religions of all Nations are derived from
each Nations different reception of the Poetic Genius.” What a great line!! This is so true. One of the most influential books I read as a teenager was The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley. If you have not read this book, I strongly recommend that you do. In this book, Huxley breaks religion into categories such as truth, faith, suffering, and so forth. He then includes quotes from various religious texts to show that the same message is being taught by each text. Essentially, every religious text contains kernels of divine wisdom, just presented in a different manner for different audiences. This is what Blake brilliantly expresses in one single line.
On my personal quest, I keep myself open to knowledge and ideas, regardless of the source. To assume that any one book, writer, or religion has a monopoly on Truth and Wisdom is about as foolish an idea as any. I hope that you all will read widely and with an open mind. You can start by clicking here to read Blake’s piece online.