William Blake's "Jerusalem" Explained.

By David Whitmarsh-Knight

Blake's Anglo-Celtic Christian epic is amongst the world's great spiritual masterpieces. Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful illuminated books created since the middle ages. Yet neither its art nor its poetry has been fully appreciated because it is incompletely understood. This textual analysis seeks to lead the reader to an understanding of this work as a literary whole. For the first time, it seeks to follow Blake's poetic 'thread' of spiritual cause and finite effect through the logoi or structural principles of his myth of salvation, or the plot, virtually line-by-line, from beginning to end.

There are numerous very good transcriptions of Jerusalem. However, I found I disagreed too often with the punctuation presented in other editions. Hence, I have written my own transcription. Here I have transcribed what is visually immediate, following what seems to be Blake's intent. The text is in italics consistent with his plates and calligraphy. No words have been dropped to the beginning of the next line as is usual in traditional formatting. Blake's calligraphic style used the borders of the text to flow up or down to complete the line. The hard itemisation of print is thereby avoided. His punctuation is such that a definitive edition is unlikely. His use is deeply subjective and it is possible the printing process etched and undercut some of the marks. A detailed scholarly analysis of the history and context of the several editions is not within my chosen remit, and I make no claim for originality in my transcription, it is merely different and personally preferred. I refer the reader to other editions, in particular to Sir Geoffrey Keynes, and Professors Bentley, Bindman, Bloom, Erdman, Paley, Stevenson and Viscomi for their comprehensive textual studies; and The Blake Archive for its visual resources. My analysis is founded upon their scholarship.

I chose the edition seen as Blake's final coloured and numbered version of the poem, Copy E for my transcription, which is based upon my grasp of the depths of meaning I think Blake sought to communicate. To my mind, his remarkable perception evokes processes of sound and chant, weight and lightness, of emphasis, rhythms, pauses and extensions, for example Blake frequently follows a full stop with a small letter, evoking a space/time different from a normal full stop and capital. Hence my interpretation of punctuation and reading of Blake's work differ from others.

The theme of Albion's fall and return to unity is well known, likewise the critical consensus in which the work is thought to be like a fractal with the event examined over and again. Within this frame of fall and return, the unanimous conclusion of every previous critic I know argues the poem is without a narrative cause and effect sequence that is the plot, which connects all the parts into a whole and explains Blake's logoi.

By contrast, I believe the detailed, coherent explanations of Blake's structural principles, mythology of persons and places, geometry of time and space, symbolism, and narrative logoi, or plot, presented here are fresh to the reader virtually throughout. I aim also to help clarify Blake's implicit theology. The intent of this, the first virtually line-by-line comprehensive analysis, is to enhance the reader's perception of the unified aesthetic of Blake's conscious craftsmanship in Jerusalem.