In case you missed it, the William Blake Archive published Copies A and I of Jerusalem back in December. Alongside these two full copies of the poem, the Archive also published a collection of miscellaneous plates and impressions–or MPI–of Jerusalem. Among the miscellaneous plates are proof impressions, which are particularly helpful in revealing Blake’s creative and revisionary processes that led to the final published version of a Jerusalem text and/or image.
My first project with the Archive was to create the illustration descriptions and textual transcriptions for the MPI copy, and I became intimately familiar with these miscellaneous plates. In particular, one set of plates stood out to me as a perfect example of Blake’s revisions from proof to publication: the four versions of Bentley plate 28, the second chapter’s title page.
The top half of the design in its final state, as reproduced in plate 28 of Copy E, depicts two figures sitting on a large lily in a passionate embrace. Notice in particular the position of their bodies: torsos facing each other, but legs facing away and extending in opposite directions. The plates in all four published copies of Jerusalem available in the Archive share this positioning. However, when we look to the MPI impressions, we can see some obvious discrepancies.
The MPI copy has four impressions of this plate, and of those four, two reflect two different proof stages. Object 11, shown above, depicts the first proof state. In this version, the figures face each other fully, with the right figure kneeling with its left leg in the same direction as the other’s visible leg. As a result, the embrace appears closer and more erotic than in the published state.
In addition to the figures’ different postures, this impression has a worm crawling on one of the petals beneath the embracing couple. It’s segmented, and could possibly be a caterpillar, which would reflect the butterfly imagery throughout Jerusalem (see title page of Copy E). A worm crawling on a flower also calls to mind “The Sick Rose” from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which has both a caterpillar and an earthworm in several copies.
In the second proof state, Blake removed the worm, changed the positioning of the figures, and left noticeable scratch marks on the lower leaves and right figure’s newly positioned leg, as can be seen in the detail of Object 12 below.
The last two impressions in the MPI copy, Objects 9 and 10, are in the third and published state of the main image–albeit without the text in the bottom half. Here, Blake has filled in the texture on the leaves and new legs to match the rest of the design. Thanks to the coloring of Object 9, the remnants of the first proof are nearly imperceptible. However, we can still clearly see traces of the worm’s outline and the right figure’s original position in Object 10, as well as in some published copies (see, for example, Copies A, F, and I).
By comparing these MPI versions to their published counterparts, we can see a step-by-step arc of this plate’s developments. Comparing the plates also leads to a wave of interpretive questions. Is it a caterpillar or a worm? What is it doing in this scene? Why remove it? Why change the figure’s positions? As my mentors Grant Glass and Katherine Calvin have taught me, my job writing markup for the Archive is not to make these interpretive calls, but instead to describe what I see and leave some possibilities open. Thus, in my tags for the insect in Object 11, I’ve included “worm,” “caterpillar,” and “inch-worm.”
With the publication of Jerusalem MPI in the Archive, scholars and students–including myself, outside my role as transcriber of course–can access these materials and begin to answer such interpretive questions. While exploring Jerusalem MPI, take advantage of the compare feature to view the plates side-by-side with the published versions. When viewing any object, click the “Objects from the Same Matrix” tab below the plate, then choose which other objects you want to see, then click “Compare Selected Objects.”
You can also send objects to the Lightbox and view them all together in one page. When viewing any object, click “Add to Lightbox” below the plate. As you view other objects, add them in the same way. To view them all at once, click the “Open Lightbox” button at the top right of the webpage.
There are several other variants, both visual and textual, between MPI and the published copies of Jerusalem, so have at them, folks! And may you find your own inchworms–or caterpillars–hiding among the leaves.