Visions

Characterising the presentation of sexuality in Blake’s poetry is problematic; as with so many of themes explored in hi ork, there is almost inevitably no fixed answer, no hidden message to fully decipher. Instead there are impressions, arguments that the poem seems to support but never asserts as absolute. This essay will examine the theme of sexuality in Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion and attempt to reconcile the positive and negative representations into a poerful and  persuasive argument.

 

Oothoon is the focal point through which sexuality is examined in the poem and she describes the disparity between her own views and those of Theotormon, and by extension society and the church. She initially appears to be a rather meek and cautious maiden, who is afraid to interfere with the supernatural “”. Her timidity is linked to her devotion to Theotormon, who she pines for as she walks in “Leutha’s”. Her setting is no coincidence: according to critic Merkel, Leutha is “rampant”. It’s debatable whether or not one should read Leutha in this way, given that these are connotations she will acquire in later works, but even if one analyses the poem in isolation it is clear that the initial presentation of Oothoon is one that would suit her wandering in the valley of the laful ex.

 

However, despite her lack of assertion and willingness to accept conventional thinking, Oothoon enjoys a great degree of personal freedom. She is seemingly able to walk through the valley and cross continents as she pleases, and the poem indicates that she “knows no fixèd lot”. This physical freedom is juxtaposed to the restrictions that society and Theotormon have created in her mind. The meaning of this is difficult to interpret as the negative and positive aspects of her dualistic freedom seem to point to quite different conclusions. However, the meaning becomes a little clearer  later in the poem hen the conflict has been reversed. Following her ordeal,  Oothoon gains the the mental freedom to examine the ideas of the other two characters in order to criticise them. She is able to note the “hypocrisy” of Theotormon’s perverse rhetoric and untangle the dense imagery of Bromion’s reflection. Her physical self though, has lost its freedom, having been “”. The message that seems to arise from these two stark oppositions of the freedom of mind and body is that mental freedom is incompatible with physical freedom and in order to gain one, one must sacrifice the other. This is a largely arbitrary division, and one which is reinforced by that peddler of artificial totalities Theotormon.

 

This also serves to highlight Theotormon’s inflexibility; despite the persuasive nature of Oothoon’s argument, which greatly undermines his own beliefs, he refuses to respond to her and there is no indication that he is even listening. Instead “Theotormon sits/Upon the margin’d ocean conversing with shadows dire.” His lack of response, seen in those two lines, is deeply revealing in two ways. First of all, the image of the margin’d ocean recalls Oothoon’s own argument that her free sexuality is the natural state of affairs and that it is his that is the hypocrisy. It does so by showing a great image of nature arbitrarily divided by a self righteous figure.  The other interesting thing about that image is that rather than listening to Oothoon’s reason, Theotormon talks to “shadows dire”. There are a number of different interpretations for this and given the mythological elements to Blake’s poetry, the shadows could certainly be seen as spirits or demonic figures. However, the idea of talking to shadows has other associations which suit this reading of sexualisation. They have connotations of being intangible and insubstantial, and shadows are not entities in their own right but dark mimicries of the objects around them. The same can be said for Theotormon’s attitude to sexuality: he has taken the natural order of the orld and corrupted them ith his belief into a set of moral codes that have been tisted from divinity to cynical.

 

In contrast, Blake aligns Oothoon’s liberal attitude with nature. A prime example of this is when she asks: “Who taught thee modesty, subtitle modesty, child of night and sleep?”, which implies that this state of modesty enshrined in social and religious convention is an artificial one because it has to be taught. Oothoon, who is consistently set in opposition to these ideas, is therefore associated with natural harmony.

 

 

“Does not the eagle scorn the earth, and despise the treasures beneath?”
The association of

 

Till she who burns with youth, and knows no fixèd lot, is bound
In spells of law to one she loathes?

 

And must she drag the chain
Of life in weary lust?

 

Oothoon is the crafty slave of selfish holiness


May 10, 2018

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