On the Wisdom of Devils

The poet William Blake once said of John Milton that he was a true poet because he was of the Devil’s party. Blake credited his assertion to how bound up in chains Milton’s writing was on God and Angels but when he wrote about the Devil and Hell it was of liberty. To this end Blake sought to emulate Milton in his work, Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

My favorite section of a major work epitomising William Blake’s genius is the section titled Proverbs of Hell, within the Marriage of Heaven and Hell collection.

-The busy bee has no time for sorrow.

-All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap

– The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots; the lion, the tiger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits.

– The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.

– If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.

– The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

-No bird soars too high if it sours with its own wings.

-Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

-Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels are build with bricks of Religion.

– The crow wish’d everything was black, the owl that everything was white.

– As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.

– As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.

Those are some of the Proverbs of Hell. To find any wisdom in them is to see the creative power of the artiste. To Blake, he got those words from Hell itself, both metaphorically and literally. For the artist’s power, if one is any good, is to be able to traverse between worlds. Between the sacred and the profane.

Blake had this to say:

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged and numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the Genius of each city and country, placing it under its Mental Deity;
Till a System was formed, which some took advantage of, and enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realise or abstract the Mental Deities from their objects—thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had order’d such things.
Thus men forgot that All Deities reside in the Human breast.

Artiste are bulwarks against the priesthood. They are the liberators of the will of man. We all have powers of one kind or another. In our own ways. It is the goal of the artist to bring this to light. Root it out of the shadows. Thus, the poet must dive deep into the firery places and bring forth wisdom.

Another artist, I admire is Lonnox Coke. As a contemporary Jamaican artist, Coke captures in paint what the masses sometimes consider as behaviour that is not necessarily ideal; the DanceHall, our own version of Milton’s Pandemonium here in Jamaica. Just as Blake said of Milton, I say more so of Coke. For Coke is a true artist, and the Devil’s party is certainly lit.