Sullen Fires Across the
I would like to thank Reeve Parker, Debra Fried, and Marlon Kuzmick for their careful reading of earlier versions of this essay.
1 In "Chats with Walt Whitman," Gilchrist's daughter, Grace, confirms that Whitman's burial house is a "design he himself chose from Blake's fine engraving of Death's Door" (212). Alexander Gilchrist's wife, Anne, is a particularly interesting point of contact between Blake and Whitman: she finished Life of William Blake, "Pictor ignotus" (1863), after her husband died suddenly in 1861; read Leaves of Grass in 1869 and became enamored with the poet; published a defense of Leaves of Grass in an anonymous article entitled, "An Englishwoman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" (The Radical, May 1870); corresponded with Whitman for six years before moving to Philadelphia (with three of her children) in 1876; and, from 1876 to 1878, became one of Whitman's dearest friends.
Blake produced several versions of
"Death's Door"; Gilchrist's Life of William Blake
includes the version Blake etched for Robert Blair's
The Grave (1808) in both the 1863 edition (1: 224)
and the 1880 edition (1: 269). For other versions see
America 6, The Marriage of Heaven and
Hell 21, and The Notebook of William Blake
N16 and N17 (also the frontispiece to Jerusalem).
See also Makdisi's reading of America 6 in the
context of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and the
Grave illustrations: he argues that Blake's
rejection of conventional commercial practice of engraving
an image whose copies are identical, or standardized, opens
up the possibility of reading repetition in his works as a
"site for a reunification of aesthetic and
political-economic analysis" (William Blake and the
Impossible History of the 1790s 181).
Songs of Innocence and of Experience and
Poetical Sketches were published in 1868 by
Pickering and edited by R.H. Shepherd.
3 I am
indebted to Morton Paley's "The Critical Reception of A
Critical Essay" for this reference. Paley notes that
Conway also "acted as the friendly intermediary in the
correspondence that led to the first volume of Whitman's
poems to be published in England . . . edited by William
Michael Rossetti, and published in 1868 by John Camden
Hotten" (34). Swinburne dedicated William Blake to
W. M. Rossetti.
4 Miller notes
that the "two vols." are Blake's Songs of Innocence and
of Experience and Poetical Sketches
Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake 1,
Balfour's discussion of the intersection of the prophetic
and the poetic in Blake in The Rhetoric of Romantic
Prophecy 127-136, esp. 135-6.
Whitman's Leaves of Grass, The First (1855)
Edition 11, 22.
8 Essays on
Blake and Whitman include Donald Pease, "Blake, Whitman,
Crane: The Hand of Fire," William Blake and the
Moderns 15-38; Pease, "Blake, Crane, Whitman, and
Modernism: A Poetics of Pure Possibility," PMLA
96.1 (1981): 64-85; Martin Bidney, "Structures of
Perception in Blake and Whitman: Creative Contraries,
Cosmic Body, Fourfold Vision," ESQ 28.1 (1982):
36-47; and Denise T. Askin, "Whitman's Theory of Evil: A
Clue to His Use of Paradox," ESQ 28.2 (1982):
list includes the Bhagavad-Gita, the
Upanishads, Christopher Smart's Jubilate
Agno, Blake's prophetic books, Rimbaud's
Illuminations, and Nietzsche's Thus Spake
Zarathustra—texts Whitman "could not have read,
because they were not yet written, or not published, or not
translated into English" (xi).
10 Blake also
calls the reader into being in "To the Public" as "[lover]
of books! [lover] of heaven!" With respect to "[lover]"
under erasure, see Jerusalem copy 3, which bears
the marks of Blake's fraught relationship to his readers,
or possibly one (potential) reader: Paley notes, "At some
point, Blake attacked the copper plate, gouging out words
and entire passages that suggested intimacy with the
reader" (Jerusalem 11).
11 See also
"The Base of all Metaphysics" and "Chanting the Square
Deific" (Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman 275,
12 See also
Stephen Leo Carr "Illuminated Printing: Toward a Logic of
Difference," Unnam'd Forms 177-96; Robert N.
Essick, "How Blake's Body Means," Unnam'd Forms
197-217; Joseph Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the
Book 163-76, and a summary of the above in Edward
Larrissy, "Spectral Imposition and Visionary Imposition:
Printing and Repetition in Blake," Blake in the
are poems grouped together based on theme or idea and a
supplement is a group of poems published separately in a
pamphlet with a title page and copyright (Leaves of
Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems I:
revision of this episode in Milton is more
abbreviated, and he adds the phrase, "he became what he
beheld" (3.29); in Jerusalem the episode itself
contracts into the repeated phrase, "they became what they
beheld" (Plates 34-36). This scene also appears in
Vala, or The Four Zoas (Blake's attempt to
incorporate his myths into a "single narrative," abandoned
in 1804 when he began Milton and
Jerusalem) in Night the Fourth, pg. 53, 22-24 [IV
180-207] and Night the Fourth, pg. 55, 21-3 [Second Portion
IV 280-95] (Erdman 336, 338). Elsewhere I argue that
Blake's practice of revising this episode by contracting it
is essential to the meaning of the textual repetition of
"they became what they beheld" in the Jerusalem
15 Also see
Blake's repeated assertion that "every thing that lives is
holy" in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 25,
Visions of the Daughters of Albion 8.10,
America 8.13, and The Four Zoas: Night
the Second, Page 34, line 80.
16 For a
discussion of this passage which opens up the possibility
that Whitman's poetry allows for the reader to speak
prophetically, see Bertolini's argument in "‘Hinting'
and ‘Reminding': The Rhetoric of Performative
Embodiment in Leaves of Grass" that the lyric
persona tropes "his own thought, affect, and activity
display[ing] modes of self-relation which are offered to
the reader for a kind of subjective reinscription" and that
we might read "Is this then a touch?" as a question
"uttered with the reader's tongue" (1067, 1071).
seems even more likely that Whitman did not read
Swinburne's William Blake when we consider that
although Swinburne includes and discusses Blake's
"pictures" and biography, Whitman does not comment on
either until he reads Gilchrist's book in 1881. Swinburne
refers widely to the first edition of Gilchrist's Life
of William Blake (1863), discusses two engravings from
Blair's The Grave, "The Reunion of the Soul &
the Body" and "The Soul hovering over the Body reluctantly
parting with Life" (56-58), but does not reproduce or
specifically discuss "Death's Door," and includes nine
facsimiles: the frontispiece is a reduction of
Jerusalem 70; the title page is "A design of
borders selected from those in Jerusalem (plates
5, 19, &c.) with minor details from The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell and The Book of Thel";
The Book of Thel title page (200); The
Marriage of Heaven and Hell title page (204); The
Marriage of Heaven and Hell 8 (208); The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell 20 (224); Milton 8 (258);
Jerusalem 81 (276); and a reduction of
Jerusalem 33 . Whitman briefly mentions Blake
only once in his published works in Good-Bye My
Fancy (1891) when he imagines that Blake's "half-mad
vision—would have revell'd night or day, and
beyond stint, in one of our American corn fields!"
(Prose Works 1892, 2: 670).