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‘There is no limit of translucence’: Spring Equinox à Genève

March 21, 2014

I have started reading (again) Susanne M. Sklar’s book, Blake’s Jerusalem as Visionary Theatre, her interpretation of William Blake’s illuminated epic poem, Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion.

120328Kbig-197x300After an interval of over a year, I decided to resume the book at the beginning rather than pick up where I left off. I was glad I did this because this allowed me to re-read a passage, which would otherwise have been forgotten, in a context – personal, geographical and temporal – in which it assumed an enriched sense, colouring my experience of reading as well as my experience of the place where I was reading, and leading to a feeling of ‘attunement’ with whatever unfolding patterns of circumstance had led me here, to Geneva.

On page 15 Sklar states that she had the good fortune to work with copy E of Jerusalem, quoting directly from Blake’s text when she remarks on its delicately painted plates: ‘There is no limit of translucence’ (J42:35). As I paused to mull over this beautiful phrase, it dawned on me that today, March 20th, it was the Spring Equinox. I read on as Sklar describes how

Blake infuses some of Jerusalem‘s images with a rose-gold wash that eludes satisfactory reproduction. Some images seem lit from within. “It’s like looking at stained glass!” exclaimed a reader working at an adjoining table.

That was it. I gently closed the book and stood up, re-entering the room from the sunlit balcony where I’d been reading, and placed the book on the table. Being only a couple of hundred yards from the Cathedral of St.Pierre, I resolved, on this day when the hours of light and darkness were of equal length, to walk up the hill to the Cathedral and regard the equinoctial sunlight streaming through its Rose Window.

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I was there in a few minutes, still enchanted by the vision of the rose-gold wash infusing some of Blake’s illuminated pages. I walked across the pool of multi-coloured light, bathing in its stream, briefly dazzled as I gazed up to the source.

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I had read earlier that day of the austere state of being Blake called Ulro – the rational, analytical world of ‘single vision’, whereby that which cannot be quantitatively expressed does not exist. Having walked up the hill and entered this luminous space, I seemed to have stepped closer to a world of imagination where Blake calls us to converse ‘with Eternal Realities’ (K613, in Sklar 2011: 43), where the image is ‘a window to eternity’ (Limouris 1990: 3-4, in Sklar 2011: 43).

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For my part, I suppose I was attempting to harmonise what I was reading with the time and place I happened to find myself, to perform an aspect of the visionary theatre being described in the pages before me… How much ‘control’ can I really assume over how this was all unfolding, other than as being part of the ‘differentiated unity’ (Sklar 2011: 4) in which we all participate?

While I’ve got much further to go with the book, on this day, our last this time in Geneva, there was a sense for me in which this conjunction of reading, place and time was auspicious, bound up with the reasons we started coming here in the first place. The sense of things coming full circle, or of a particular cycle perhaps being played out, came late that afternoon, when a friend took us to a zoological garden close by the cemetery of St.George. Recognising the Café de la Tour and the allotments on that wooded hilltop, overlooking the confluence of the Rhône and the Arve, I realised that here was the place where I’d ended up when I went on an extended wander on my own on my first full day in Geneva, just over four years before, at the start of a phase of many heart-rending family trips to and from that city.

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References

William Blake. 1804-20. Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion.

Susanne M. Sklar. 2011. Blake’s Jerusalem as Visionary Theatre: Entering the Divine Body. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press

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