Study Guide

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Good vs. Evil

By William Blake

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Good vs. Evil

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys reason; Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is heaven. Evil is hell. (1.24-1.26)

Here Blake is turning the conventional ideas of good and evil on their heads. Good isn't about living up to a higher moral code. It's about being passive, weak, and too in line with reason. On the other hand, bad isn't about doing horrible things to others. It's about expending energy, independence, creativity. By those new definitions, Heaven is no place to go. Hell's where it's at.

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the cause of the following errors:—
1. That man has two real existing principles, viz., a Body and a Soul.
2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body; and that Reason, called Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following contraries to these are true:—
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul. For that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
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. (2.1-2.8)

According to Blake's argument, what we call "Evil" is really just a collection of natural urges that spring from our bodies. And what we call "Good" is just a series of restrictions we place on those natural urges. If that's the case, then, it's not hard to see why he advocates for Hell and hates on angels for the rest of the book.

It indeed appeared to Reason as if desire was cast out, but the Devil's account is, that the Messiah fell, and formed a heaven of what he stole from the abyss. (2.15)

The biblical story of the fall of Lucifer is usually seen as the defeat of evil by good. In this book's framework of evil-as-energy and good-as-repression, though, the fall of Satan becomes the ascension of a new messiah. It's like a biblical opposites day.

As I was walking among the fires of Hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius, which to Angels look like torment and insanity, I collected some of their proverbs (3.1)

Hell is where it's at, gang. More than that, this description tells us that Hell is where the expression of creative energy can give way to genius. Angels, however, just don't get it. To them, genius looks like madness. Hmm—that sounds pretty familiar. Don't we always say that geniuses walk a fine line between sanity and insanity?

Note.—This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is my particular friend; we often read the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense, which the world shall have if they behave well. (8.5)

Did you know that there was an "infernal" way to read the Bible? That's news to us, too, but it's more evidence here of Blake's re-imagining of what good and evil actually mean. The fact that an angel converts to a devil here further speaks to his disruption of the old definitions of good and evil.

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