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Book Review of For The Sexes: The Gates of Paradise by William Blake




The physical aspects of this book are just gorgeous! Black Letter Press has done a wonderful job of honouring this lovely work of Blake. Assuan cloth-bound and gilded, in a cloth covered slipcase, and with red edged wood-free pages, this book is a real beauty!


From Black Press’ site:


“In 1793 William Blake produced eighteen small engravings, which he called For Children: The Gates of Paradise, a series of emblems drawn from the large number of designs in Blake’s Notebook. Blake arranged them according to the life of man from birth to death, and while these emblems have a great deal in common with children’s books of the time, they are in fact extremely complex in thought and allusion: a journey through water and earth, wind and fire; emerging as a child from the 'mundane shell', encountering women and reaching for the Moon of Love ('I want, I want'), and falling into Time's Ocean. After several more episodes, he finally arrives at death's door with Job's words, 'I have said to the Worm: Thou art my mother and my sister'. There a female figure is 'Weaving to Dreams the Sexual strife, And Weeping over the Web of Life'.

In about 1818, Blake revised the original plates, giving the work the new title of For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise. He re-engraved some, altered others, rewriting some of the legends and adding three plates of engraved text to the end (Plates 19-21). The final plate is addressed to Satan as the 'God of this [Fallen] World'.


Only five copies of this little book of emblems have survived, one of which was in Blake’s possession at his death.”


Every image in this book leaves one with much to ponder, and though Blake wrote a key included at the back of the book, it still takes a lot of study to even come close to fully understanding what Blake is saying with these images. I will share a few striking ones here; a woman pulling a child out of the ground as if a mandrake, someone lusting after the moon, and the Nobodaddy (the derisive name for the anthropomorphic God of Christianity) clipping his angel's wings. 




              

 I imagine the readers in this time were quite taken aback with this work of Blake's, Hunter Dukes writes “While they touch upon Christian themes, The Gates of Paradise are shocking for their scenes of vibrant ecology, human figures mixed and remixed with the earth.”(1)  Several of the images show man within the elements of water, earth, air and fire.


William Blake was a highly religious man while at the same time eschewing organized religion which he had absolute disdain for, and which is shown plainly in the last poem of the book, illustrating the hypocrisy of religious institutions:


To the Accuser Who Is The God of This World


Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,

And dost not know the Garment from the Man.

Every Harlot was a Virgin once,

Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan.

Tho' thou art Worship'd by the Names Divine

Of Jesus & Jehovah, thou art still

The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline,

The lost Traveller's Dream under the Hill.

 

Thank you so much to Black Letter Press for sending me this gorgeous book! 




Originally published in Noumenia News Issue 67.

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