Monday, April 12, 2010

ALBION & ARTHUR

THE SLEEP OF ALBION is a chapter in Kathleen Raine's book, Golgoonoza: City of Imagination. In it Raine explores the relationship between King Arthur and Albion (the oldest name for Great Britain) in the mind of the British. She shows how Blake's Albion partakes of the legends surrounding King Arthur. As the legends of King Arthur end, he is entombed but not dead, sleeping until he is called to return to 'restore just rule to his kingdom and repel its enemies'.

Blake writes:
(Descriptive Catalogue, Number V, (E 543)):
"The giant Albion, was Patriarch of the Atlantic, he is
the Atlas of the Greeks, one of those the Greeks
called Titans. The stories of Arthur are the acts of
Albion, applied to a Prince of the fifth century, who
conquered Europe, and held the Empire of the world
in the dark age, which the Romans never again
recovered."

In Jerusalem, it is the Giant Albion who is "imagined in the similitude of Arthur". Albion's sleep is the sleep of Arthur. Raine says, "in recounting the 'acts of Albion' [Blake] considered himself to be recounting the sacred history - the inner history of the British nation from ancient times, with prophetic foresight of that future when Albion, like Arthur, is to wake from sleep."

To Raine the 'sleep' of Albion "is conceived by Blake not as the mere passage of time but as a state of apathy, of lowering of consciousness, of forgetfulness of higher things...Blake tells the story of how the nation has come to lapse into spiritual ignorance and forgetfulness...

"Blake is quite specific in his diagnosis of England's national disease: it is precisely that secular materialism ... upon which modern Western civilization is founded...

"Our society is forever thinking in terms of changing our circumstances; Blake's revolution will come when we change ourselves. From inner awakenings outer changes will follow...

"When Albion awakens he will find himself in his lost kingdom restored to its former glory; for the kingdom is ourselves...

"Paradise is not a place but a state of being, the lost kingdom to which the sleepers of Albion must someday awake."

Descriptive Catalogue, NUMBER V, (E 542)

The Ancient Britons:

"In the last Battle of King Arthur only Three Britons
escaped,
these were the Strongest Man, the
Beautifullest Man, and the
Ugliest Man; these three
marched through the field unsubdued, as
Gods,
and the Sun of Britain s[e]t, but shall arise again with

tenfold splendor when Arthur shall awake from sleep,
and resume
his dominion over earth and ocean."

Jerusalem, Plate19, Albion 'in pain & tears'

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