Study Guide

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Freedom and Confinement

By William Blake

Freedom and Confinement

2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight. (2.7-2.8)

Blake's inversion of good and evil can get a bit confusing, so it might help to think of Energy and Reason. His idea is that evil is just the misunderstood expression of the body's energy, while good is really an over-emphasis on reason. Here, he explains that reason is what constrains ("the bound or outward circumference") energy, and that's a bad thing. Energy, for Blake, means non-stop good times.

Their love is an eager meaninglessness
Too tense, or too lax. (15-16)

Love is usually the bee's knees. It's a thing we tend to associate with extreme satisfaction. And yet, that's not the case here. Even the usual goodness of love is ruined by "meaninglessness." Color us (and women) dissatisfied.

They hear in every whisper that speaks to them
A shout and a cry. (17-18)

It's hard to be satisfied with you're acting neurotic. These lines suggest that women are paying too much attention to the unimportant details of life (like a "whisper"). You've probably heard the cliché "Don't sweat the small stuff." Well, there's a lot of sweating going on in these lines, which is a perfect recipe for dissatisfaction.

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling.
And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire. (2.9-2.10)

Here Blake's speaker dishes out some advice: if you restrain or confine your energy long enough, it will eventually dissipate "till it is only the shadow of desire." To put this in bumper sticker terms: "use it or lose it," "let the good times roll," and "let it all hang out."

Note.—The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it. (2.18)

Even Milton suffered from being restrained ("in fetters"), though he didn't know it. His subject matter was to blame. Luckily—in Blake's view—he was able to be free when he wrote about devils and Hell and all that other good stuff. To Blake, this is the kind of creative expression that makes for a true poet.

The cistern contains, the fountain overflows. (4.35)

Blake breaks out a metaphor in this proverb to remind his readers that motion and freedom are better than stagnation. The fountain is all about the motion and energy of the water, while a cistern is a just a lame jug that holds it in. Of course, if a fountain overflows, it's ceases to become a fountain and instead turns into a water leak, but we feel like Ol' Willy is on a roll here, so we're not going to quibble.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern. (5.15)

It's not just physical and spiritual freedom that Blake's concerned with here. Here he reminds us that there are also constraints on perception that can be equally damaging. So open your eyes, people.

In it were a number of monkeys, baboons, and all of that species, chained by the middle, grinning and snatching at one another, but withheld by the shortness of their chains. (7.10)

This scene is probably the most disturbing part of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, what with all the monkeys chasing, raping, and eating one another. It's probably not an accident either that they're all chained up. Remember that the speaker is showing the angel what his (the angel's) future has in store for him, just like the angel did for the speaker when he showed him the spider abyss. The idea here, then, is that the spiritual restraints, which the angel has on in the name of being good, will eventually turn into physical chains. And, we guess, the angel will eventually become a cannibalistic monkey. In any case, it sounds like bad times to us.

20. Spurning the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying: "Empire is no more! and now the lion and wolf shall cease." (9.20)

Did you forget that Blake was also all about political freedom as well? Just in case you did, he tacks on "A Song of Liberty" at the end of the book. (Some versions appear without the last two sections, in fact.) In it, he calls for an end to empire, for countries to stop colonizing other lands and peoples. In this idea, Blake was way, way ahead of his time. Sadly, the world didn't listen to him. The Age of Empire cranked up not long after The Marriage of Heaven and Hell appeared, setting up a colonial system in which a few countries tried to take over the rest of the world. To this day, the legacy of colonialism is one of suffering and resentment.

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