Of the primeval Priests assum'd power,
When Eternals spurn'd back his religion;
And gave him a place in the north,
Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary.
Eternals I hear your call gladly,
Dictate swift winged words, & fear not
To unfold your dark visions of torment.
Okay. So we got Urizen, the Primeval Priest being cast out and shunned in the cold, void, solitary north, literally at the top of the world. Our poet is going to side with the Eternals. This is their story of Urizen. The Eternals are Blake's muse, and their lot is dark torment.
1. Lo, a shadow of horror is risen
In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific!
Self-closd, all-repelling: what Demon
Hath form'd this abominable void
This soul-shudd'ring vacuum?--Some said
"It is Urizen", But unknown, abstracted
Brooding secret, the dark power hid.
With that in mind the peculiarly charged language that is being tossed about at poor Urizen should be understood as our poet taking sides. He is un-known, un-prolific, self-closed, all-repelling. He is a demon inhabiting and abominable void, a soul-shuddering vacuum.
2.Times on times he divided, & measur'd
Space by space in his ninefold darkness
Unseen, unknown! changes appeard
In his desolate mountains rifted furious
By the black winds of perturbation
To this point, we've been given very little grounding, but what we do know about Urizen is that he is the Primeval Priest who broods in hiding, like a hermit in an ethereal wilderness separated from these Eternals.
The repetition of times on times with space by space, gives us an abstract sense of an emerging dimensionality that is forming ninefold in a darkness. Nine is a square, a two dimensional plain. We vaguely get the image of a two dimensional blackness that suddenly erupts with desolate mountains and black winds of perturbation.
Urizen divides, and measures, a notion closely associated with Blake's idea of Negation. “Contraries mutually exist. Negations exist Not: Exceptions & Objections & Unbeliefs/Exist not: nor shall they ever be Organized for ever & ever: If thou separate from me, thou art a Negation.” (Jerusalem)
The “voice of Devil” goes on to say in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that 'All Bibles or sacred codes. have been the cause of the following/ Errors./1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul...' and later, Blake's logical contrary to this, which “the devil” affirms as “true”: '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.'
There is a duality within the duality which I think is well worth exploring relative to Blake's construction of the Negation. It's clear from any angle that (positively defined from the examples Blake lists) a Negation is a rejection, which comes preloaded with sorts of despairing baggage relative to a young artist, well ahead of his time who was none the less considered out of style. This could be taken as a confession of Blake's attitude toward Negation, but there is nonetheless a subtle point being made about Negation as a process. Negation separates, it divides.
On the other hand, a Contrary exists because it is paired with an opposite. They exist as attributes, as states of being of a thing, as Blake says: “Qualities” such as “Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate.” Such “Qualities” are verbal in nature, they refer to processes, causes, motives, acts, energies. But they needn't be restricted merely to events, because qualities such as hot and cold, light and dark, are experienced in contradistinction to one another. In fact, darkness compels us to turn on the light, it is the cause of our doing so.
The Contrary to the idea that the soul is distinct from our body, is the idea that the soul is not distinct from our body. The Body, as Blake's Devil says, is a portion of Soul. Blake's Devil argues against their separation into distinct entities. There is a sense to which this separation of Soul from Body would be in Blakean terms a Negation, since there is a division of a unitary whole (the bodysoul) into separate wholes which are contemplated in terms of their individual properties. Thus care for the Soul takes on the attribute of being set against the passions of the Body, which are deemed Evil. This example of Blake's Devil's Contrary, upon further scrutiny, elucidates more about Blake's functional definition of what a Negation is, than his concept of the Contrary which has become ambiguous.
Let us say, first, that this is the Devil's Contrary. And let us recognize at once that the Devil's Contrary is a Blakean Negation. It objects, and rejects, and it asserts the truthfulness of its propositions which are the logical opposites of the propositions they were based on. So indebted are they to their forebearers that they claim almost identical nomenclatures being barely restatements of propositions of “All Bibles or Sacred Codes” in the negative form. This is an obvious case of P and ~P. The Devil's Contrary is a Negation, in this case, of a primordial Negation in which Soul and Body are separate individual entities. It is a Negation of a Negation. A marriage of body and soul, where the two become one, parts of a greater whole.
Thus the Reasoning Negative as Blake refers to it in Milton, is the Abstracting, Realizing, Concretizing, Defining, Measuring, Standardizing, and Systematizing impulse toward self-closure. In essence: machine logic; attributed to Urizen, the Primeval Priest, who divides and measures his desolate void alone.
This concept in turn has a close relationship to the Spectre, which is like an abstraction, a negation, and it is not coincidentally identified by a word which comes from the Latin word 'to see.' It denotes a refraction, some sort of reduction; a part, that fancies itself the whole.
My reader needn't buy this lengthy digression on Negation just yet. So far all it suffices to do is explain the choice of two adjectives: “abstracted,” and “self-closed.” It also distracts from Urizen as a character, who as the personification of this Negating-principle, acts in much the same way as Blake would have understood pagan mythological systems. He states in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
'The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses,
calling them by names and adorning them with the properties of woods,
rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged
and numerous senses could perceive.
...Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd
the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from
their objects: thus began the Priesthood.'
Two things deserve explicit mention here. Firstly, the animation of sensible objects is accomplished through personification. Secondly, a system is formed by priests to enslave and this is accomplished by realizing or abstracting, two words which have an interchangeable value in the context of this sentence. Thus “abstraction” in the parlance of the The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, means to concretize or to “realize” in the “literal” sense “to make real” or to believe as a fact; to make believe this Genius is actual. This probably runs counter intuitively with the way most people would consider an abstraction, which generally involves a reductive generalization of some sort, a reduction of things to their shapes for instance is an abstraction. The fact that these serpentine priests could at once Abstract and Concretize the mental deities suggests multiple dimensions of meaning which are being tangled in a single sentiment. Can we take the Devil's words in earnest?