The influence of Jacob Boehme on the work of William Blake
Boehme's influence on Blake, although often acknowledged, is frequently underestimated and has never been comprehensively investigated. Much modern criticism regards Blake's work as non-transcendental, even secular. This is partly a reaction against earlier criticism, which was more sympathetic to Blake's connection with the mystical tradition. The argument of this thesis, however, is that Boehme exerted a continuous and pervasive influence on Blake, and that recognition of this can illumine some of the most difficult and contradictory elements in Blake's work. These include the attitude to the body and the senses, and the metaphysical status of the selfhood and the created world. Chapter One discusses Boehme's system, noting that it represents a synthesis of many different currents of thought, including the Dionysian via negative. the Hermetic tradition, the Kabbalah and the Lutheran faith. It is emphasized, however, that his philosophy arose from intense mystical experience rather than academic study, and that he chose to express it in symbolic and mythological terms rather than rational concepts. Chapter Two, on The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, suggests that Blake was pursuing his central concern, of how to unify existence without destroying its essential polarity, in the wake of a study of Boehme, Chapter Three views The Book of Urlzen against the background of Boehme's first four properties of Eternal Nature and his account of the fall of Lucifer and Adam. The final chapter presents a synoptic examination of The Four Zoas. Milton and Jerusalem, Among the topics discussed are: the designs by Dionysius Freher in the context of Blake's unfallen Albion; the Behmenist 'lightning-flash' compared to Blake's experiences as recorded in Milton; the concept of eternity, shared by Boehme and Blake, which combined stasis and activity; Blake's use of the 'language of nature' in the context of the risen Albion, and the connection between Blake's figure of Los and Boehme's Mercurius, as transmitters of the divine Word.