Study Guide

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell The Argument

By William Blake

The Argument

  • This Marriage begins, well, not like an ideal marriage—somebody's raging out.
  • Rintrah is on the warpath, gang. He "shakes his fires in the burden'd air" (1.1), which sure sounds like he's got a pretty big bee in his bonnet.
  • Wait a second—who is this Rintrah character anyway? We're not told directly. Luckily for you, though, we can use our extra-Shmoopy powers of research to reveal that this character was really an invention of Blake's. He was meant to personify the righteous anger of a true prophet.
  • We next learn about a "just man," who was once "meek." He's walking along "The Vale of Death," which is probably not famous for its pedestrian crossings.
  • Still, the scenery is nice: we have roses now where thorns used to grow, and bees are singing where the land used to be barren.
  • We learn that a path was planted, even though it was "perilous" (1.9).
  • As well, rivers and streams were placed "On every cliff and tomb" (1.11). Also, there was red clay "on the bleached bones," which "brought forth"… something (1.12). We're not told exactly what that might be.
  • This is a good time to note that, if you're having trouble imagining how all this landscaping works, you're not alone. These lines—the few that are written in actual poetic form—are pretty ambiguous. The upshot, though, is that the land used to be desert-like, but now it's making a comeback with signs of life (like water and nourishing clay).
  • After we're told about the clay, the speaker mentions a "villain" who left an easy path to take a more dangerous one.
  • Doing so, it seems, pushed the just man into this desert-like land. We're not told exactly how, though.
  • Before we have time to ponder that too much, though, we're moving on to a "sneaking serpent" (1.17). It's walking around "In mild humility" (1.18).
  • Now, if you're like us, you're having a hard enough time picturing a humble snake, much less one that walks.
  • Meanwhile, our just man is still in the wilderness, and now it's his turn to rage out.
  • Not to be outdone, we're reminded of Rintrah's original anger party (1.1), and led to make the connection that this Rintrah is, in fact, our just—and angry—man.
  • At this point in the section, we have a form change (see "Form and Meter" for more). We shift from poetic lines to prose ones, which tell us that "a new heaven is begun" (1.23).
  • It's been thirty-three years since it began, apparently, revived by "Eternal Hell" (1.23). Hmm—a Heaven that was started by a Hell? That's quite a paradox.
  • It turns out that someone named Swedenborg is sitting on a tomb. (Check out "Symbols" for more on who this guy was.) Next to the tomb are Swedenborg's writings, which are folded up like a bunch of laundry. Translation: cold burn—this guy's words were like a bunch of soiled undergarments.
  • The speaker tells us that now Edom is in charge, and Adam has returned to Paradise. Check out "Allusions" for more on these guys.
  • We're also told to read the Book of Isaiah, Chapters XXXIV and XXV.
  • After this helpful advice, the speaker lays this on us: "Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence" (1.24). This seems important. What we think of as opposites are actually both vital to being human, says our speaker.
  • From these, he continues, we get the religious terms "Good" and "Evil."
  • Good is passive and listens to reason. Evil is active and springs "from Energy" (1.25).
  • The section concludes with a reminder that "Good is heaven. Evil is hell"—just in case you were confused (1.26).

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