In William’s Blake’s visionary peom he blends images of both heaven and hell as being opposite of what one might traditionally think they represent, as metaphores for life and living. The message being that what one may think of as hell may actually be exactly where they want to be. In the story of Tristan & Isolte we know that Isolte is betrothed to King Marke but after Tristan and Isolte drink the potion that brings out thier love, they accept thier fate as lovers no matter the consequenses. And in Dante’s Inferno the lovers Francesca and Paolo are in hell due to Paolo being Francesca’s brother in law. Dante is moved to tears by her story and one can’t help thinking if Dante was in two minds of whether they really were in hell.
Excerpts from William Blake’s poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
As I was walking among the fires
of Hell, delighted with the enjoyments
of Genius, which to Angels look like
torment and insanity.
For the cherub with his flaming
sword is hereby commanded to leave
his guard at the tree of life, and
when he does, the whole creation will
be consumed and appear infinite and
holy, whereas it now appears finite
This will come to pass by an im-
provement of sensual enjoyment.
If the doors of perception were
cleansed everything would appear to
man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till
he sees all things through narrow
chinks of his cavern.
From Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan & Isolte:
At that moment Brangaene came
and recognizing the empty phial
grasped at once the whole story.
Such was her fright and shock
that all her strength deserted her
and her color drained as though in death.
With heart already dead she went
and seized that ever-accursed flask,
carried it hence, and flung it
into the wildly raging sea.
“Ah, alas,” she groaned, “alas,
that ever I was born on earth!
How have I lost in woe
all my honor and faithfulness!
God’s rue be eternal
that ever I came on this voyage,
that death did not prevent me
from being sent with Isolt
on this damnable mission!
Alas, Tristan, alas, Isolt,
this drink means death for you both!”
Tristan: “So then, Gods will be done, whether death it be or life. For that drink has poisoned me sweetly. I do not know what the death of which you tell is to be true, but this death suits me well. And if delighted Isolt is to continue to be my death this way, I shall gladly court an eternal death”.
When Tristan felt the pangs of passion,
his first thought was for
his loyalty and honor,
and at once tried to retreat—
“No, no,” he said to himself,
“not that, Tristan, get hold of yourself—
pay no attention to such thoughts.”
And yet that’s where his heart would go.
He fought against his own will,
desiring against his desire,
striving forward and away.
The man, so entrapped,
struggled in his bondage
often and repeatedly
and kept it up with persistence.
As a man of loyalty,
two great concerns afflicted him.
He had but to see Isolt,
and at once sweet Passion
made use of her to sear
his whole heart and mind.
Yet when he thought of honor,
that distracted him once again.
But then Passion counterattacked,
his hereditary sovereign,
and to her he had to yield.
His loyalty and his honor
pressed him with their concerns,
but Passion pressed him even harder,
inflicting worse than woe—
It was the same for Isolt.
She strove against a life
that had become unbearable.
When she recognized the trap
that spectral Passion had laid for her
and understood that her senses
were ensnared in it,
she sought a firmer foothold
by means of which to get free.
But the snare only tightened,
drawing her ever down and back.
The beauty fought against it all,
resisting at every step,
following most unwillingly.
She strove this way and that,
twisting one way and another
with both her feet and her hands,
but succeeded only in tangling
both her hands and her feet
in the sweet entrapment.
From Dante’s Divine Comedy; Inferno, Canto 5: Francesca and Paolo
And thus began: “Francesca! your sad fate
Even to tears my grief and pity moves.
But tell me; in the time of your sweet sighs,
By what, and how Love granted, that ye knew
Your yet uncertain wishes?” She replied:
“No greater grief than to remember days
Of joy, when misery is at hand. That kens
Thy learn’d instructor. Yet so eagerly
If thou art bent to know the primal root,
From whence our love gat being, I will do
As one, who weeps and tells his tale. One day,
For our delight we read of Lancelot,
How him love thrall’d. Alone we were, and no
Suspicion near us. Oft – times by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our alter’d cheek. But at one point
Alone we fell. When of that smile we read,
The wished smile so raptorously kiss’d
By one so deep in love, then he, who ne’er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kiss’d. The book and writer both
Were love’s purveyors. In its leaves that day
We read no more.” While thus one spirit spake,
The other wail’d so sorely, that heart – struck
I, through compassion fainting, seem’d not far
From death, and like a corse fell to the ground.