Thank you to Josh for bringing this poem to my attention.
A Divine Image
Cruelty has a human heart,
And Jealousy a human face;
Terror the human form divine,
And Secresy the human dress.
The human dress is forged iron,
The human form a fiery forge,
The human face a furnace sealed,
The human heart its hungry gorge.
It would behoove us to be familiar with another poem of Blake’s – one from “Songs of Innocence” – which could shed light on this one.
Now “The Divine Image” has four stanzas that do not correspond to this poem. The only one that does correspond is here:
For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Now we can see how “mercy” and “cruelty” oppose, and likewise “pity” and “jealousy.” But how are “love” and “terror” related? And “peace” directly opposes – “secresy?”
The nice thing about the “Songs of Innocence” version is that it gives the key to interpreting this poem in the other four stanzas it has. If you look at the other poem, you’ll notice that “love” in the next to last stanza is out of order, and that “peace” is missing in the last stanza. That’s the clue that tells us that the 4 stanzas that do not correspond to this poem do correspond to “mercy, pity, love and peace,” and the “heart, face, form, dress” order. From the other poem, we can deduce that mercy is connected with not just heart, but with “delight.” We can also see that the “human face,” in that poem being pity, is tied to how we picture God, and by extension, ourselves. The “form” is not merely “love” there, but the universality of prayer – all men pray. Finally, “peace” is the love of that form, the having of “mercy” on particular “faces” – “peace” is the garment all of us wear, that melts distinction.
So much for “The Divine Image.” How does it inform our reading of “A Divine Image?”
The place to start is with recognizing the difference between “innocence” and “experience.” We start with ideals, and then we meet the world. In that meeting, priorities are reorganized. Notice how the second stanza of the above poem moves from the dress to the heart – that is not the movement of the first stanza, nor the movement of the poem “The Divine Image.” Our priorities are literally reversed because of “experience:” we do not assume we know the solution to life’s ills; we now want to know what truly lies in men’s hearts.
So we move from the outside in. Forged iron implies armor and armaments – secresy is maintained not through hiding, really, but through the threat of using strength (see Shakespeare, Sonnet 94 for more on this). The same fire which might cause love – the flame of desire – is what forges that strength and in forging, makes us willing to use it. Contrast this relation with the exactly parallel relation in the previous poem: there, love of the human form led to peace: here, there is “terror,” which is the “human form divine,” and it leads to secresy (which can be obliquely seen in the words “furnace sealed,” too).
The devil in Milton is desire for control: he must have due respect for what he perceives to be his by right. I think “terror” is what gives one control over all men – to get them to be afraid, to rob them of spirit, is what is characteristic of excessive desire. The “human heart” is a “hungry gorge,” after all – it is that void which characterizes it, a void which speaks of unlimited desire.