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Vol. 54 no. 3: Winter 2020–21

“If you want to learn the secrets, close your eyes”: Bruce Dickinson’s “Gates of Urizen” as Contrary Version of The [First] Book of Urizen

  • Katharina Hagen
17 January 2021
17 Jan. 2021


Urizen, the protagonist of William Blake’s The [First] Book of Urizen (1794), is a dark character who represents tyranny, suppression, and reason. While Urizen retells events in the form of a book, depicting an unchangeable past, Bruce Dickinson’s song “Gates of Urizen” (The Chemical Wedding, 1998) concentrates on enlightenment and the escape from Urizenic restrictions. Both focus on contrasts—​imagination and reason, open space and enclosure, mind and body, mobility and fixture, success and failure. Whereas the separation of contraries Los and Urizen leads to misery and chaos in Urizen, it produces positive results in “Gates”: Dickinson’s adaptation changes the outcome of Urizen and turns the plot into practical advice on how to pass the gates of Urizen. By comparing metaphors of imprisonment and freedom in both texts, such as impaired vision and prophetic sight or the contrast between being earthbound and airborne, I shed light on how “Gates” turns a dystopic mythology into a philosophy of life.