All the categories in the world no matter their number shall be dead issues without the Poetic Genius to inspire them. And with that inspiration there shall be no limit to the possibilities. For no conceivable taxonomical scheme can name all the future arrangements of evolution, not as long as Life presses against the dead definitions the schemers would impose to contain the world for their prejudices.
Only the Poetic Genius, who is possessed at once by the past, present, and future, has direct access to the transcendent Cause of all creation. Hence only the Poetic Genius has the gift to prophecy according to the Causeless Cause he calls God. By God he means the infinite Subject of subjects, ineffable in itself, unknown except indistinctly by innumerable predicates—all predicates belong to God and to God nothing is inconceivable. He means Freedom for Heaven's sake. He means Love.
And what is Love? Love is your Life. That is what the Poetic Genius means by God, and that is why he urges all to put aside the virtual suicide death religion to truly live as a True Man. And by this expression, Man, he also means Woman, for Ma is the root of Man—her access to the ground of prophecy is most intimate.
The Poetic Genius is the First Man possessed by God. Therefore he is the first Enthusiast, the very Adam of Enthusiasm. He is the Free Spirit incarnate within whom the Life of Man proceeds. Again, "Man" is from "Ma", or she-who- measures-out, thus Man is "He-who-thinks", hence the Poetic Genius is the very impetus of the life of the mind, the founder of all the arts and sciences of culture and civilization. There can be no true enthusiasm or god-possession without Poetry. Absent Poetry, we are left with the feigned enthusiasm of publicity and advertising designed to stimulate the production and consumption of sense objects. Or we have the religious and political hypocrisy and sophistry of power mongers. In a word, what we have without Poetry is blasphemy!
William Blake was certainly an enthusiastic poet. His was a popular enthusiasm—his poetry advocated the freedom of every man. Each True Man is competent to reveal the future. "Every Honest Man is a Prophet," he said. Blake enthusiastically supported the French Revolution at its outset. He fostered an abiding hatred for Biblical literalism and the religious and political Establishment of his day. As far as he was concerned, the authoritarian interpretations of the Bible were "abominations," priestly corruptions of poetic tales. We find this text on Plate 11 of his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
"The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous sense could perceive. And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity. Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood, choosing forms from poetic tales, and at length they pronounced that the Gods had ordered such things. Thus men forget that all deities reside in the human breast."
False religions contemn Desire, Blake averred. His sentiments were at odds with the rationalized theology of orthodox monotheism. As far as he was concerned, the one-god Moses experienced on Sinai was an encounter with "forms of dark delusion." Blake also addressed in his peculiar way the dark delusions of Norse mythology.
Blake's Holy Bible was a bible of myths, and it influenced him to make some myths of his own. Los, his personified Creative Imagination, says in Blake's Jerusalem, "I must Create a system, or be enslav'd by another Man's,/I will not Reason & Compare; my business is to Create."
The Sun stands free of received authority, observed the poet, and it needs no darkness to distinguish it. Yet he was unenthusiastic about the Enlightenment's metaphorical sun, namely, Reason, for he felt that scientific Reason's reifications restrains Desire even more than the rationalized traditional religions. In fact, Blake's adopted archenemies were Bacon, Newton, and Locke, sensationalists misled by their senses to false beliefs. Man is not limited by incoherent, finite sensations of matter; no, Man craves the Infinite, therefore Man has the Infinite within, Man is infinite.
Mind you that Blake's Desire is not sensual: the essence of his idol is spiritual, not material. That is, Blake's Desire is the motive that results in sense experience, not the sense experience itself. Naturally, the Poetic Genius enjoys a mystical experience beyond sense experience. Blake is of course a mystic: the work of Jacob Boehme, the mystic and shrewd businessman whom Hegel said was the founder of German philosophy, had a major influence on Blake's mysticism.
In one of his first illuminated (engraved, printed and then colored) books, There is No Natural Religion (c. 1788), Blake argued that, since science is only concerned with the evidence of the senses, it is limited by a fixed ratio to the sensible world, therefore:
"If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character, the Philosophic and Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, and still unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again." And, "He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio sees himself only. Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is."
He reiterated the notion again, in All Religions are One (c, 1788), 'The Voice of one crying in the Wilderness': "As none traveling over known lands can find out the unknown. So from already acquired knowledge Man could not acquire more, therefore a Universal Poetic Genius exists." Moreover, "The poetic genius is the true Man, and that the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius."
Responding to the charge that his work was vague and obscure, he announced "That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients considered what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it rouses the faculties to act. I name Moses, Solomon, Aesop, Homer, Plato."
Blake certainly would not have an elite aesthetic cult of poetic geniuses, or a priesthood of poets established, i.e. a literary elite who falsely believe that they and they alone have access to God. Every man, he said, has poetic genius available to him according to his lights, his honesty, and his ability to become true to his Poetic Genius.
Although Blake was appalled by the authoritarian abuse of religion and scripture during his time, he held fast to his belief that the holy testaments were the work of inspired poets, and that such inspiration is available to every Honest Man:
"The religions of all Nations are derived from each Nation's different reception of the Poetic Genius which is everywhere called the Spirit of Prophecy." And, "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various) so all Religions and all similars have one source. The true Man is the source, he being the Poetic Genius."
In sum, within each man is the true Man, and he is the Poetic Genius, the source of all true religion, the religion of Life and Love and Liberty.
Our sentiments may differ from Blake's. Some of us might feel threatened by perspectives other than our own in matters of faith, and may therefore be provoked to indignation and contention by Blake's radical ideology. Lest we get too upset over the overturning of our apple carts, we should remember that, unlike his associate Thomas Paine, who enjoyed making a mockery out of scripture, Blake saw it as a valuable myth and made more myths out of it. And unlike Paine and other radicals, Blake hated deism, atheism, materialism and the like idols of the late Enlightenment. He also hated dogmatism.
In fact, Blake was a profoundly religious man even though he was influenced by the secular ideology of his day. Liberty was the keyword: the French Revolution promised liberties not enjoyed under England's aristocracy. Britons got their hopes up for radical change in their own country—William Pitt (Jr.) would bury the dissident movement where it would remain underground until the 1830s. During the 1790s, William Blake, Mary Wollstonecraft, Josiah Wedgewood, Thomas Paine and other radicals met regularly at the house of Blake's employer, the radical publisher, Johnson. Mary Wollstonecraft actually went to Paris to enjoy the Revolution, including the Terror, and fell in love there with an American, Captain Gilbert Imlay, passing as his wife. She later married the philosophical anarchist, Godwin, and mothered Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft is best known for her Vindications of the Rights of Women (1792), a work followed by Paine's Vindications of the Rights of Man. Blake illustrated a few of Wollstonecraft's books. So when we consider Blake's opinions on religion, we must keep his company in mind, and their mutual hatred for the established church and state at the time, a time of great spiritual anxiety for Blake and other sensitive souls.
The poet eventually lost his faith in the regenerative power of Revolution; he believed it was just another one of Orc's (Blake's Spirit of Rebellion, in America) revolts against Urizen (Blake's divisive god, from horizein,"to divide"). He was disabused of his theory of dialectics, that "Without contraries is no progression," and that progress is derived from a synthesis of Good and Evil. But he held to his premise that, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
Suffice it to say that William Blake was an enthusiastic poet, and that to abolish poetry from enthusiastic endeavors would be not only blasphemous but would be a threat to the happiness and very existence of the human race. The race may survive for awhile as an ant-like army encased in its technological armor, but sooner or later the terrain will shift, leaving it in the lurch, a terrible lurch it could not withstand without the virtues of poetry.