by William Blake

What can this Gospel of Jesus be?
What Life & Immortality,
What was it that he brought to Light
That Plato & Cicero did not write?
The Heathen Deities wrote them all,
These Moral Virtues, great & small.
What is the Accusation of Sin
But Moral Virtues' deadly Gin?
The Moral Virtues in their Pride
Did o'er the World triumphant ride
In Wars & Sacrifice for Sin,
And Souls to Hell ran trooping in.
The Accuser, Holy God of All
This Pharisaic Worldly Ball,
Amidst them in his Glory Beams
Upon the Rivers & the Streams.
Then Jesus rose & said to [men altered to] Me,
"Thy Sins are all forgiven thee."
Loud Pilate Howl'd, loud Caiphas yell'd,
When they the Gospel Light beheld.
[“Jerusalem” he said to me del.]
It was when Jesus said to Me,
“Thy Sins are all forgiven thee.”
The Christian trumpets loud proclaim
Thro' all the World in Jesus' name
Mutual forgiveness of each Vice,
And oped the Gates of Paradise.
The Moral Virtues in Great fear
Formed the cross & Nails & Spear,
And the Accuser standing by
Cried out, “Crucify! Crucify!
“Our Moral Virtues ne'er can be,
“Nor Warlike pomp & Majesty;
“For Moral Virtues all begin
“In the Accusations of Sin,
“And [Moral del.] all the Heroic Virtues [all del.] End
“In destroying the Sinners' Friend.
“Am I not Lucifer the Great,
“And you my daughters in Great State,
“The fruit of my Mysterious Tree
“Of Good & Evil & Misery
“And Death & Hell, which now begin
“On everyone who Forgives Sin?”

SOURCE: Blake: Complete Writings, edited by Geoffrey Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), from Supplementary Passages, version 2, pp. 758-759.

Of the two editions of Blake's collected writings, the Erdman edition has become standard, and I believe it is textually more authoritative than Keynes. Yet I was brought up on Keynes, and all my mental associations, as well as my visualizations of the whereabouts and arrangements of these poems, come from several decades of exposure to the Keynes edition, whereas Erdman is just a reference tool I use in a cold and calculating manner. Also, I don't much care for Erdman's organization of the texts, though they are grouped logically. I much prefer a chronological arrangement.

There is another aspect of Erdman's text that disturbs me though. Erdman is quite thorough in his marginal notes to the texts, but these notes are at the back of the book, which means that the general reader, who may not be deeply into the scholarship, might not rush to consult them. This has serious consequences in some cases.

This is especially so in the case of “The Everlasting Gospel”, of which there are several versions, with a lot of textual editing by Blake. Erdman gives a complete account in his notes to the poem at the back of the book. The problem is that these notes also include variants of the poem which are not also found in the main section of the book with the other variants. This means that unless a reader is quite scrupulous, (s)he will miss out on some very important writing by Blake.

Also, the Blake Digital Text Project on the web does not reproduce these notes, and so the Blake text above is not available with the rest of the Erdman edition online. To be sure, Erdman's concordance is available on the web site, and one will find references to those notes, and thus one gets the keyword with three lines of context. There is also a link from the project's home page to a Hypertext version of “The Everlasting Gospel”, but I was unable to access it.

These lines are too important to miss out on, as Blake here summarizes his viewpoint in a way not to be found in the other versions of the poem, and in perhaps the most succinct, compact fashion in his corpus. When I first read this stuff at the age of 17 I was probably too lazy to look up the footnotes. Where would I be today had Keynes not put these lines in the main body of the book where they belong?

Here we get the whole picture in miniature: Blake's view of the forgiveness of sins, his opposition to the Greek and Roman classics, his view of Satan as the Accuser of sin. It is still up to the reader to learn more and to dig beneath the obvious to get to the underlying motivations for Blake to take the side of Hebraism against Hellenism. What do the “moral virtues” of the heathen and the “forgiveness of sins” really mean, beneath the ostensible religious references? What makes Blake a heretic? What is the class basis of Blake's hostility to the classics?

Ralph Dumain
21 December 2003


The Blake Digital Text Project offers an excellent resource, an annotated hypertext edition of The Everlasting Gospel by David Owen.

Keynes places this version of the poem under the rubric "Supplementary Passages," number 2. The hypertext equivalent is version b.

12 July 2006

William Blake on Individuals and States

William Blake on the Dialectical Moment of Renewal

William Blake Study Guide

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Uploaded 21 December 2003
Addendum 12 July 2006

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