It’s been said that Blake’s poetry is nearly impenetrable. When people say this, they’re referring to a series of long poems that are often called Blake’s “prophetic books.” It’s not that people struggle much with Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, or The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I doubt anyone is stumbling their way through “The Lamb” or “The Tyger.” In fact, some of Blake’s poetry is highly readable for eighteenth century work.
The challenge is that Blake created his own mythology and he launches in with all these characters that have no sticking power for a reader. This is unfortunate as Blake remains well worth reading for his ideas, his language, and his sui generis worldview. [Even if he doesn’t win you over, Blake will give you something to think about that you’ve probably never considered before.] Blake’s mythology forces the reader to choose between a painstaking read (making notes, re-reading sections multiple times, stopping dead to make connections, etc.) or a casual read that misses most of what Blake is saying because it floats over the connections he is making.
As I’m re-reading Blake, I constructed a chart that helps me track who’s who and what each major character is about. I won’t claim it makes Blake’s prophetic work completely simple and transparent, but it has made reading it more productive and insightful. If you’re reading “Valas,” “Milton,” “Jerusalem” or any of the other prophetic books, I hope it will benefit you as well.
Em/F: these are emanations (i.e. characters that flow from the character from which the pointer originates.) Some refer to these as the feminine forms, hence the “F.”