Rational vs. Imaginative: William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

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At a time when the Church was a central authority and possessed great political power using religion as a constraining force over people, The Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries "was a critical reaction against traditional authority"1 (p.7). During this time period, multiple explanations of the rational and the imaginative emerged from faith and scientific law. Réné Descartes and Isaac Newton are principal figures when it comes to using natural methods to explain the divine.4 (p. 1, 2) William Blake felt the Enlightenment privileged the rational over the imaginative and explicitly reacts to this misconstrued, narrow thought process in his work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake clashes science, poetry, rationality, and imagination to show the limitations and problems that privileging the rational has had by exploring the imaginative in a diabolic way.

Very soon into The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake criticizes the dispensation of the rational over the imaginative, Reason over Energy, by stating:

Without Contraries is no progression.

Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.

From the contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.6 (Plate 3)

He says that both are necessary if progression is to occur; Hence, Blake's title The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This is contrary to Enlightenment way of thinking as good has outweighed evil because of the strong, religious, political influence the Church has flexed.

Blake dismisses the advantage that has been placed upon good over evil by taking on a diabolical voice and condemns the Church, as it has condemned men, by explaining that "All bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:..."6 (Plate 4),