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Spiritual HistoryA Reading of William Blake's Vala or The Four Zoas$

Andrew Lincoln

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198183143

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198183143.001.0001

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(p.293) Appendix 2: Interim Revisions

(p.293) Appendix 2: Interim Revisions

Spiritual History
Oxford University Press

On page 48 of the manuscript Gerald E. Bentley Jr. has detected a mirror-image of a page of Hayley's first Ballad, and an indentation probably caused by the impression of a copper plate. Bentley suggests that this proof page was used as a backing-sheet when Blake was printing engravings for the Ballads at Felpham.1 Blake's engravings for the first Ballad are dated ‘1 June 1802’. As it seems unlikely that Blake would temporarily remove a page of his manuscript to use it as a backing-sheet, it seems reasonable to conclude that the writing on page 48 was transcribed after the proof had been used in this way. If the basic text of the proof pages was mostly transcribed at about the same time, and the copperplate text was transcribed in 1797 as the title page suggests, there may have been an interval of at least five years between the transcription of the proof text and the copperplate text.

One series of revisions appears to belong to this interval. At several points in the copperplate text Blake erased ‘Eternal’ from the phrase ‘Eternal Man’, and substituted other epithets. ‘Fallen’ is the most common substitute, but ‘Wandering’, ‘Slumberous’, and ‘Ancient’ also appear (the last term was substituted on the title page and twice in the text). Blake's general method in these alterations—erasing the original text, writing the revisions first in pencil, and then confirming them in ink—indicates a concern for the physical appearance of the copperplate text. On page 48 of the proof text (line 13) Blake began to write ‘Ancient,’ but then substituted ‘Eternal Man,’ which is the phrase generally used throughout the proof text. ‘Fallen Man’ and ‘Ancient Man’ would thus seem to be interim terms, adopted after Blake had transcribed the copperplate text, but dropped when he began to transcribe the proof text. From this evidence it would seem that Blake revised Enitharmon's ‘Song of Death’ in the interim period, for here ‘Fallen’ replaced ‘Eternal’ (10: 10, E 305).

Another revision that seems to have been planned in the interim period survives on the fragment page 141, where Blake first used the term ‘ancient man’, and then changed this to ‘Eternal Man’ (deleted text in italics; additions in square brackets):

  • Beneath the veil of?Enion [Vala] rose Tharmas from dewy tears
  • The ancient [eternal] man bowd his bright head & Urizen prince of light
  • (p.294) Astonish lookd from his bright Portals calling thus to Luvah O Luvah in the—————————
  • Astonishd lookd from his bright portals. Luvah king of Love
  • Awakend Vala. Ariston ran forth with bright? Onana
  • And dark Urthona rouzd his shady bride from her deep den
  • [Awaking from his stony slumber]
  • Pitying they viewd the new born demon, for they could not love After their sin—————————
  • Male formd the demon mild athletic force his shoulders spread
  • And his bright feet firm as a brazen altar, but. the parts
  • To love devoted, female, all astonishd stood the hosts
  • Of heaven, while Tharmas with wingd speed flew to the sandy shore [ocean]
  • He rested on the desart wild & on the raging sea
  • He stood & stretchd his wings &c—————————
  • ———————————————
  • With printless feet scorning the concave of the joyful sky
  • Female her form bright as the summer but the parts of love
  • Male & her brow radiant as day. darted a lovely scorn
  • Tharmas beheld from his high rocks &—————————
  • (141: 1–20, E 845)

The fragment appears to develop an account of the fall which involves two pairs of characters who do not appear (as far as we can tell) in the original copperplate text: Ariston and Onana, with Urthona and his shady bride. Blake may have been trying to form a mythical structure that would correspond to his later scheme of four ‘Zoas.’ The fourth pair would presumably have been Urizen and Ahania. Perhaps Tharmas and Enion, and Los and Enitharmon were once thought of as products of the fall rather than as prelapsarian powers (Tharmas is perhaps the child of Vala here, as in the pastoral interlude of Night IX). When Blake continued this passage in pencil on the verso of the leaf, he made three attempts to describe the mating of Tharmas and Enion. The second attempt describes a conception followed by a separation. In the third attempt, Tharmas conceives from Enion:

  • From Enion pours the seed of life & death in all her limbs
  • Frozen in the womb of Tharmas rush the rivers of Enions pain
  • Trembling he lay swelld with the deluge stifling in the anguish
  • (142: 8–10, E 846)
These tentative notes seem to present an alternative to the sexual union described on page 7. Blake apparently got as far as making tentative pencil notes of a comparable revision on page 7. Erdman notes:

Under lines 1–3 … are three erased lines in Blake's usual hand, the last word of the 1st line being ‘threatning’. Partly under these but beginning in the top margin is a pencil passage of six lines, the 1st three legible (but short, as if only beginnings of lines):

  • (p.295) When Tharmas shook his billowy hair
  • Two forms of horror howld beneath? it
  • A male & female witherd
  • (E 821)

These lines, partly underneath the first layer of ink revisions at the top of the page, are probably among the earliest additions to the page. As in the fragment, Tharmas appears to be sexually female, giving birth to ‘two forms of horror’. This tentative revision was not adopted, although in 8: 2, which refers to the birth of Los and Enitharmon, Blake deleted in pencil ‘little infants wept’ and added ‘Then forms of horror howled’ (an alteration over which Blake vacillated before rejecting it).

The Tharmas of the fragment—a monstrous winged demon who is compared to a metallic artefact, and whose birth is associated with ‘sin’—is presumably the prototype of the Spectre of Tharmas who mates with Enion in the revised myth. The concept of the Spectre allowed Blake to distinguish between different forms of Tharmas and of Urthona, and it played an important part in the structure of the four ‘Zoa’ scheme. By the time Blake began to transcribe the proof text, Los and the Spectre of Urthona had been identified as fallen forms of Urthona.


(1) Bentley, Vala, or The Four Zoas, 161.