Archives for posts with tag: Bible


The  biblical English poet William Blake didn’t believe in either God or Man as separate entities but in Divine Humanity as a union of creative effort. The divine being takes the initiative. At the point of communication the two become an identity. Man must let go of  his ego to be resurrected. The self-surpassing of human limitations is infinite.  Paradise can  be made here.

IMG_0490_1 Blake saw the American (and later French) revolutions as victories for humanity against established authority and the message of Jesus as one of social liberation. In his 1790 poem The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (where the exuberance proverb appears) left-wing and right-wing political forces are wedded when the right is converted.  The ‘left’ are the Devils and the ‘right’ are the Angels. Blake was on the left, supporting Voltaire and Thomas Paine.


Blake is a complex poet and no one really understood him until Northrop Frye came along. In this  blog I am relying on “Blake’s Bible” which is published in Robert Denham’s Myth & Metaphor: Selected Essays by Northrop Frye 1974-88

Blake’s rules are radical but as our civilization crumbles they make more and more sense for us writers and concerned citizens:

  1. Throw away judgmental, conforming morality.  It is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ which God warned Man against in Eden
  2. Don’t be prudish about sex or nudity; this attitude came from having eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree
  3. Pursue your abilities to love and to create. Make them your highest goals. They are the center of potentially divine powers.
  4. Destroy your own grasping and clutching ego. That also will  make you more human.
  5. Realize that the old, metaphorical cosmology of the Bible is not historical or scientific. Paradise and the Apocalypse are scenarios to be enacted on earth by human creators with a spiritual partner. Hell is what we have now.

Thanks for dropping by.The roses are blooming at my home as I write. I’ve helped them a little by fertilizing them and discarding the leaves ruined by black spot and pests.  Please leave a comment below, as  exuberant as you wish.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of lang and lit, note-taker of Norrie Frye, journalist, editor, author, almost octogenarian

English: Victoria College in the University To...

Victoria College at University of Toronto  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the fall of 1947-48, ‘The Finest Generation’ had returned from WW II  and gone back to school, looking for knowledge and inspiration to lead a peacetime society.

At Victoria College in Toronto English Professor Northrop Frye was ready and welcoming. He had compiled a punchy Bible course in line with the college motto, ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free‘.

These students were the most brilliant he ever taught, his diaries say. After an hour-long lecture, they’d head for a coffee with friends who wanted to know what “God” said today.

This fall students’ notes of those 24 lectures (36 pp) edited by Professor Robert Denham have been posted online. They have not lost their punch. You can read and download them as a PDF without paying fees.

Here’s what he told them in the beginning of his first lecture (direct,  unabridged quotes):

1. The Bible is the grammar of Western civilization; it brings down an entire culture and civilization to us.

2. The Bible  represents a vision of the whole of human life. Transcendental genius and ridiculous genealogies are side by side. It is crude, shocking, funny.  It has a beginning, a middle and an end. The narrative from Creation to Last Judgment takes an epic survey of time. The perspective is of eternity. Jesus is the center of the Bible. Jesus and the Bible are identical.

3. Several theological systems are based on the Bible and all claim to be equally correct. All religions are on a level as far as moral doctrines are concerned; the moral loftiness of the Bible is accidental, like its aesthetic beauty.

4. Recurrent symbols in the Bible form a single pattern. The structure is complicated and must be studied. The whole Bible is the history of man’s loss of freedom and organization and how he got it back.

5. There are two kinds of symmetry: (1) the chronological story of creation, etc., as a legendary, mythical story of the fortunes of the Jewish people from 2000 B.C. to 100 A.D.  and the spread of the Christian Church. (2) The second kind is circular. The conception of true and false as we think of it is not dealt with in the Bible. The fall of man and the apocalypse have nothing to do with history. The whole question of causation, order, purpose is not dealt with.

6. Christianity clings to revelation, and the only practical way to do this is in a book. All we know about God is in the Bible; there is no God in nature or “up there” in the sky. The association of God and Man is the basis of Christianity.

Frye gave his Bible course for decades and died twenty years ago. He became principal of the college; to honor him on an anniversary, the  motto carved in stone into the arch over Vic’s entrance door appeared almost miraculously to read ‘The Truth Shall Make You Frye’.

Click on this link to read all of the 24 lectures of Frye’s 1947-48 Bible course. The notes taken by students Margaret Gayfer and Richard Stingle are part of the Robert D. Denham collection in Moncton, NB, the birthplace of Frye.

Margaret Kell Virany, author of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void

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Photo by Deborah Shackleton

What I liked best about Professor Northrop Frye, whose birth centenary was celebrated in 2012, was his obvious love for his students. Methodist parents reared their youngest son on John Bunyan‘s Pilgrims’ Progress and the King James version of the Bible in Moncton, NB, Canada. With his mother’s milk he drank in the creation, the Garden of Eden, the expulsion, guardian angels, the tribes of Israel, the exodus,  prophecies,  kings,  the ten commandments,  God, Jesus, the apostles, the parables, redemption, heaven, hell, the apocalypse …

But what did it all add up to, what was it for, where did it come from and what made the words and stories so strong and beautiful? As he grew and finished school, he thirsted to go to the big city and learn more.  At age 16 he entered and won a typing contest and had arrived.

By the time I was a freshie at Victoria College, University of Toronto, in 1950  Professor Frye (Norrie) was a legend. Fearful Symmetry, his study of the poet William Blake, had awakened the western world of academics and critics to a new way of reading and interpreting its own literature that depended on the Bible to unlock its code. Actually it was an ancient way of myths, metaphors and types. His Anatomy of Criticism was in progress, taking on the task of finishing Aristotle’s Poetics.

Frye strode to his desk in the lecture room, fair hair and black robe flying,  sat down and surveyed us once with a  kind, friendly, forced, shy granny smile.  His blue eyes gave a glint of the force he nursed. Huge thoughts trotted out in perfect sentences that set the pace for agile note-taking.

I sat through four years of taking Frye’s notes on the usual fare of the novel, modern poetry, Spenser & Milton, modern drama, literary criticism, Greek & Latin literature, Canadian & American literature and 19th Century Thought. After graduating I put them in a box and forgot them. He never lectured on or commented on his own books but his basic ideas shone through.

When I reached middle age and asked myself big questions that had to be resolved I knew Frye was the only person who could help me. I invested my money and time in buying and reading several of his books and he did not let me down.

If you are interested in downloading free notes of Norrie Frye’s classes in pdf form, follow the link given below. When you are in, click on the Denham library in the right menu. For other cozybookbasics posts on Frye, go to ‘Home’ at the top of this page and scroll down.,,,,

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Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) was a role model for generations of British woman

Susanna Annesley (1669-1742), mother of John Wesley, was a role model for British women

A surprise comment from some women who read my book is, “Margaret!   We had the same mother!” What we seem to have in common is not that we have the same DNA, but that our mothers were British. They wonder, as I do, why their mother never talked about herself, and never talked to them about their selves. “What were our mothers thinking?” they ask.

Susanna Annesley was so conscientious  (a trait of the mothers we’re talking about) she set down her ideas about child raising so she could be a good example for all women. In this excerpt from A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void it was 1955 and I lived in a student residence at the University of Toronto that bore her name:

“In my senior year, I was elected president of Annesley Hall, the girls’ residence a.k.a. the Bastion of Virginity. This home to sixty Victoria College co-eds was named after John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Annesley, who set the Methodist pattern for raising children. She considered obedience the basis for all other virtues, since children must learn from their parents until old enough to form their own judgments. They must clean up their plates, speak softly to the servants and be honest, knowing that forgiveness was at hand. She taught her eight children the alphabet on their fifth birthdays, although two of the girls took one-and-one-half days to master it. They learned to pray and read the Bible, and each evening she spent an hour with one child alone. She paid particular attention to John, God’s special child who had been saved from a fire in the rectory at the age of six. He grew up to be called ‘the most influential Englishman since Shakespeare.’”

It was not a warm relationship between the egos of mother and child but a strict training in obedience, humility, appreciation, honesty, redemption, literacy, Biblical mythology and worth. My mother lived from 1900 to 1990 and was still dedicated enough to the Methodist pattern to try to instill these virtues. Traumatized by  World War I, she particularly emphasized security, based on trust in God. It took six years of research before I could understand her, celebrate our love and take real joy in having had her as my mother.

What do you think? Were these ideas horrendous or sound? Too cold and radical?

In later years John Wesley said,  “My mother was the source from which I derived the guiding principles of my life.” But maybe he would envy his contemporary, Benjamin West, who said, “One kiss from my mother made me a painter.”

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