Chapter Sixteen

ISLANDS






- chapter index -
pg. 1 - Islands | pg. 2 - Sagittarius | pg. 3 - Formentera Lady
pg. 4 - A Dragon Fig Tree's Fan | pg. 5 - The Sun | pg. 6 - Tanit
pg. 7 - The Crystal Cabinet | pg. 8 - Sailor's Tale | pg. 9 - Seizing the Ox
pg. 10 - The Letters

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"Blake returned again and again to the problem of evil in the symbolic terms of a "descent" of the soul from a world of spiritual light into a world of material darkness; but behind the story of the soul lies the cosmic problem of the origin and nature of the world. The original "descent" of light, or spirit, into matter, or darkness, has been expressed in many fables: the dismembering of Osiris and the scattering of his body over the earth; the laceration of Dionysus; the deus absconditus, or hidden god, of Alchemy, made prisoner in matter. As the individual soul has its cycle of descent and return, so have these symbolic figures of the divine power in the cosmos itself.

Blake, who considered Paracelsus as great as Shakespeare, knew the Alchemical tradition; and that strange poem "The Crystal Cabinet" seems to summarize the Alchemical doctrine of the imprisoning of light in matter. The very title is Alchemical; the "cabinet" is a term used by Thomas Vaughan (Eugenius Philalethes), brother of the poet Henry Vaughan, for the physical body in which spirit dwells. In his book Aula Lucis (the tent of light) he writes that "matter is the house of light . . . when he (that is light or spirit) first enters it, it is a glorious transparent room, a crystal castle, and he lives like a Familiar in diamonds."

Formentera Lady represents this initial descent into matter or darkness. At first our protagonist experiences her in the light and he lives with her "like a Familiar in diamonds". In the course of the song, day turns to night and the Formentera Lady evolves from a "sun lover" to a "dark lover".

"He hath the liberty to look out at the windows, his love is all in his sight: I mean that liquid Venus which lures him in; but this continues not long," says Vaughan; for the feminine watery principle makes the light her prisoner, so that at last "he is quite shut up in darkness." The same story is told in Blake's poem, The Crystal Cabinet:

The Maiden caught me in the Wild
Where I was dancing merrily;
She put me into her Cabinet
And Lock'd me up with a Golden Key.

The maiden is our by now familiar water-nymph or "liquid Venus," and the merry dancer the light or spirit which she captures and encloses in a body."

- The Resources of William Blake from Manas magazine

In Gnostic creation myths, it is the feminine aspect, known by various names (Isis, the Black Virgin, the White Goddess) that activates or awakens matter. She is the soul aspiring to physical incarnation.
From the Gnostic Apocryphon of John:

"I entered into the midst of the dungeon which is the prison of the body. And I spoke thus: "He who hears, let him arise from the deep sleep." And then he (Adam) wept and shed tears. After he wiped away his bitter tears he spoke, asking: "Who is it that calls my name, and whence has this hope come unto me, while I am in the chains of this prison?" And I spoke thus: "I am the Pronoia of the pure light; I am the thought of the undefiled spirit. . . . Arise and remember . . . and follow your root, which is I . . . and beware of the deep sleep."

- The Genesis Factor
by Stephan A. Hoeller

"The Hermetic/Neoplatonic myth tells how, from the time of original Chaos, Divine Light (Soul) has been attracted by the Subtle Spirit, Nature, down into the dark Abyss, from whence it is released only by dissolution or death. In the words of the Greek Neoplatonist, Porphyry, it is the "urge for pleasure" - the urge to "follow and obey their worst parts, which draws souls down into the "witches brew of generation"

- Porphyry. On the Cave of the Nymphs, (written 3AD), in Lamberton, R.(Trans.). New York, Station Hill Press, 1983, pp.9-10.

- Regeneration in Remains of Elmet1
by Ann Skea

first published in The challenge of Ted Hughes


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Previously, he had only heard the Formentera Lady's song. Now he has seen her.


3. Seeing the Ox

"He sees the ox for the first time. The way appears and he recognises it as right, even though it is still unclear."

- Ten Oxherding Pictures

"With intuition what is being recognized may be unclear."

- Einstein's Revenge by Paul P. Budnik Jr

In the first verse, the Formentera Lady sings while the sun shines and the Fool calls her his "sun lover", but by the end of the song she dances (indicating we have moved from the metaphysical to the physical) and it is night. With growing awareness of what is happening to him, he now calls her his "dark lover" (Jung's dark anima). The protagonist of Islands is descending into darkness (matter).

At the end of Formentera Lady the one female voice becomes two. These are the Sirens of Homer's Odyssey who lure sailors to their death with "clear toned song". Demonstrating how an anima can appear as negative one moment and positive the next, it is Circe herself who warns Odysseus of the Sirens:

"You will come first to the Sirens, who enchant everyone who comes near them. If anyone approaches them without knowing, and hears the voice (phthongos) of the Sirens, for him there will be no wife and little children standing by to gladden his homecoming."

- Odyssey XII. 36-54; 181-200



Islands ~ Tanit return to
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Islands ~ Sailor's Tale



Sign the Dreambook Dreambook Read the Dreambook

Chapter One The Metaphysical Record In The Court Of the Crimson King In The Wake Of Poseidon Lizard The King In Yellow The Sun King Eight
The Lake Which Mirrors the Sky In the Beginning Was the Word In the Beginning was the Word...side two Eros and Strife Dark Night of the Soul...Cirkus Dark Night of the Soul...Wilderness Big Top Islands
Islands Two Footnotes in the Sand Still Still 2
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