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Short poem

William Blake (1757-1827)

The Book of Urizen


              1Lo, a shadow of horror is risen
              2In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific,
              3Self-clos'd, all-repelling: what demon
              4Hath form'd this abominable void,
              5This soul-shudd'ring vacuum? Some said
              6"It is Urizen." But unknown, abstracted,
              7Brooding, secret, the dark power hid.

              8Times on times he divided and measur'd
              9Space by space in his ninefold darkness,
            10Unseen, unknown; changes appear'd
            11Like desolate mountains, rifted furious
            12By the black winds of perturbation.

            13For he strove in battles dire,
            14In unseen conflictions with shapes
            15Bred from his forsaken wilderness
            16Of beast, bird, fish, serpent and element,
            17Combustion, blast, vapour and cloud.

            18Dark, revolving in silent activity:
            19Unseen in tormenting passions:
            20An activity unknown and horrible,
            21A self-contemplating shadow,
            22In enormous labours occupied.

            23But Eternals beheld his vast forests;
            24Age on ages he lay, clos'd, unknown,
            25Brooding shut in the deep; all avoid
            26The petrific, abominable chaos.

            27His cold horrors silent, dark Urizen
            28Prepar'd; his ten thousands of thunders,
            29Rang'd in gloom'd array, stretch out across
            30The dread world; and the rolling of wheels,
            31As of swelling seas, sound in his clouds,
            32In his hills of stor'd snows, in his mountains
            33Of hail and ice; voices of terror
            34Are heard, like thunders of autumn
            35When the cloud blazes over the harvests.


1] First engraved in 1794, in twenty-eight plates. Originally called "The First Book of Urizen," and apparently intended to be the first part of an epic poem following the biblical narrative from Genesis onwards, as Blake interpreted it. Urizen (from the Greek horizein) is the spirit of human intelligence, originally divine, but in the fallen world becoming the kind of reason that separates man from nature by developing abstract ideas, and leading to the worship of mechanical order in Nature. This in turn rationalizes cruelty and suffering by some kind of fatalism or belief in a necessary tyrannical order. In Blake's thought the fall of man and the creation of the present world are the same event.

9] ninefold. The present universe is often thought of as having nine spheres (cf. the "nine enfolded spheres" in Milton's Arcades).

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Blake, The Book of Urizen (1794).
First publication date: 1794
RPO poem editor: Northrop Frye
RP edition: 3RP 2.292.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/14

Form note: unrhymed

Other poems by William Blake