Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blake's Apocalypse

Plate 6 of America:
"The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry'd,
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst.
Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field:
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
And let his wife and children return from the opressor's scourge.
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream,
Singing, 'The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.' "

This might well be called Blake's Apocalypse, certainly a more hopefull account of the End of Time than John's apocalypse.  America, a Prophecy   is an early work (1793) that deals with America's war for independence. (Incidentally a fairly large number of liberal minded Englishmen supported the American Revolution, as did Blake here.) He used American figures as well as French ones in a paean to revolution.
(Two lines of the passage reappear in The Four Zoas [Nt 9], 138.20-21; E406.)

Tom Paine was perhaps the  chief propagandistic instigator of the American Revolution with his Common Sense, and Blake probably agreed with what he said (although not with his deistic faith).  With Blake and Paine the relationship between the two men is imaginatively portrayed.

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