The Book of Urizen

Original Text: 
William Blake, The Book of Urizen (1794).
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
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. Back to Line
9] ninefold. The present universe is often thought of as having nine spheres (cf. the "nine enfolded spheres" in Milton's Arcades). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Northrop Frye
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.292.