I’m currently working on my own transcription of William Blake’s Vala or The Four Zoas. The Four Zoas is a long, complex mythological work by William Blake begun in the mid-1790s but never finished. Because Blake left this text unfinished, the manuscript pages that we currently have are left in a variety of stages of Blake’s composition and editing process. Some artwork is highly finished while some are bare, faint sketches. Some text is written in a careful calligraphic hand while other text seems carelessly written, and there is text written between lines, crossed out, written in margins, etc.
The file below will show you three different presentations of The Four Zoas:
1. David Erdman’s edition of The Four Zoas published in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake and currently available on The Blake Digital Text Project. Erdman’s goal was to present Blake’s final version of this text to the extent that Blake had revised it. That means he didn’t include any text that was crossed out.
2. G.E. Bentley Jr.’s transcription for the 1963 Oxford University Press edition of VALA or The Four Zoas. Bentley provided a full transcription, including crossed-out text, and indicated revision stage and text position using carets and footnotes.
3. My own transcription. Text that you see written in very faint letters on the photograph of the page is present in my text, but I represent it using a variety of shades of gray, so you probably won’t be able to see it unless you download my .pdf from Scribd (that’s what you’re seeing below) and view it in a .pdf reader.
4. A photograph of the original page.
The following table organizes details of the heads of the tyger featured at the bottom of Blake’s poem “The Tyger” in the different copies available at The William Blake Archive. There are thirteen images in all available at The William Blake Archive, which is a around half of all known copies of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience and none of the individual copies of the Songs of Experience. The William Blake Archive is an open-access, well-organized, and professionally presented repository of Blake’s visual works. The editors and their staff work very hard to provide as much material as possible and are adding to the archive regularly. You can learn more about The William Blake Archive by visiting its “About” page.
The images below are arranged chronologically by category. The taxonomy, alas, is my own. Since “Psychedelic” refers to color, all images under this column are found in other columns. Copy AA appears under both “Bashful” and “Happy,” because the expression is a bit enigmatic to me, while I was tempted to put Copy L, currently under “Sad,” in its own category, “Tired.”
The facial expression of Blake’s tyger has been a matter of some critical discussion over time. You might notice that the majority of the images below fall under the heading “Happy,” which seems inconsistent with the description of the tyger in the text of the poem “The Tyger.” My immediate impression is that Blake is deliberately using the drawing in these instances to provide an ironic visual counterpoint to the poem’s description of a fearsome tyger, but such a statement would diffuse the tension, power, and questioning of the poem almost completely — if the tyger (and by extension nature) isn’t that fearsome after all, then stanza five’s closing question, “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” is easily answered, and we are returned to the innocence of the child speaker in “The Lamb.” This reading is certainly possible, but it seems to thoroughly invalidate the force of “The Tyger” with a wry grin, a possibility I find difficult to fully accept at present. I’ve also wondered out loud about the possibility that Blake was following bad taxidermic models for some reason, but that’s only speculation.
To facilitate discussion, I thought it might be useful to provide side-by-side images of just the heads so organized. I may add summaries of this critical discussion to this post when I’m near my Blake books again. You can view all plates side by side at the Blake Archives’s comparison page for this poem.
The schedule has now been set and registration is open for William Blake’s Manuscripts: A One-Day Symposium. This symposium will be held at the Huntington Library on June 7th, 2013, and the list of Blake luminaries speaking include (in alphabetical order) Luisa Calé, Mark Crosby, Morris Eaves, Alexander Gourlay, Steve Hindle, Rachel Lee, Joseph Viscomi, Angus Whitehead, and John Windle. Attendance costs $31.50 and includes lunch, introductory remarks, two plenary sessions, two panels, and closing remarks by Mark Crosby (lunch is optional: conference registration alone is $15.00 and free for students). I would encourage anyone interested in Blake and able to travel to San Marino, California in June to take advantage of this opportunity.
I’ve published a review of Robert Essick’s and Mark Crosby’s Genesis: William Blake’s Last Illuminated Book at the Zoamorphosis 2.0 blog. The Zoamorphosis blog is a wonderful resource for all things Blake, and my review is very appreciative of the work that the editors carried out in publishing this edition.