Monday, October 03, 2011

Summary of Blake's America a Prophecy Section One

If you read the pair of posts on Angels in Blake's America, you doubtless have some questions re meanings of various words, thoughts and ideas. 
Here we attempt  a fuller interpretation of Blake's poem.  David Erdman, in Prophets Against Empire, donated Part One to the American War; reading from page 7: 
"In 1780 in the fifth year of the war..Blake was 22 and free both from his apprenticeship and from 'Matrimony's golden cage' [An Island in the Moon; E460])."  In earlier years (of Innocence) he had learned to love England (a 'green and pleasant land'.  But now the indescribable horrors to which England had descended were evidenced by the Gordon Riots with open violence on the streets as well as across the Atlantic. With those violent events in his mind Blake began to write the poem.


From Plate 3:
"for a terrible blast swept over the heaving sea;
The eastern cloud rent; on his cliffs stood Albions wrathful Prince  
[the British king of course]                                                     
A dragon form [Orc of course: bloody revolution] clashing his scales at midnight he arose,          
And flam'd red meteors round the land of Albion beneath      
His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders, and his glowing eyes, 
Appear to the Americans upon the cloudy night.
Solemn heave the Atlantic waves between the gloomy nations,
Swelling, belching from its deeps red clouds & raging Fires!
Albion is sick. America faints! enrag'd the Zenith grew.
As human blood shooting its veins all round the orbed heaven     
Red rose the clouds from the Atlantic in vast wheels of blood
And in the red clouds rose a Wonder  o'er the Atlantic sea; 
[Here Blake  introduces Orc]: Intense! naked! a Human fire fierce glowing, as the wedge
Of iron heated in the furnace; his terrible limbs were fire
With myriads of cloudy terrors banners dark & towers             
Surrounded; heat but not light went thro' the murky atmosphere"
(Erdman 52-3). Now read from America (Plates 14 and 15) in Erdman 56-7): 
"Fury! rage! madness! in a wind swept through America             
And the red flames of Orc that folded roaring fierce around
The angry shores, and the fierce rushing of th'inhabitants
     together:
The citizens of New-York close their books & lock their chests;
The mariners of Boston drop their anchors and unlade;
The scribe of Pensylvania [Benjamin Franklin?] casts his pen upon the earth;          
The builder of Virginia [Washington?] throws his hammer down in fear.

Then had America been lost, o'erwhelm'd by the Atlantic,
And Earth had lost another portion of the infinite,
But all rush together in the night in wrath and raging fire
The red fires rag'd! the plagues recoil'd! then rolld they back
     with fury 
On Albions Angels; then the Pestilence began in streaks of red
Across the limbs of Albions Guardian, the spotted plague smote
     
And the Leprosy Londons Spirit, sickening all their bands:
The millions sent up a howl of anguish and threw off their
     hammerd mail,
And cast their swords & spears to earth, & stood a naked
     multitude.      
Albions Guardian writhed in torment on the eastern sky
Pale quivring toward the brain his glimmering eyes, teeth
     chattering
Howling & shuddering his legs quivering; convuls'd each muscle &
     sinew
Sick'ning lay Londons Guardian, and the ancient miter'd York
Their heads on snowy hills, their ensigns sick'ning in the sky" 
************************************************************** 
Albions  Angel (which appeared 7 times in America) stood beside 
the  Stone of  night).   Damon tells us that "The Stone of Night 
is the druidic doctrine  of revenge"; he also tells us  that 
"Albion is the father of all mankind"; but here Albion's Angel represents America.

In America a Prophecy (1793), Orc is described as a threat to the British colonies in America and to society. The angel of Albion sees Orc as an antichrist figure, and  the prince of Albion views Orc as a dragon. 


During the work(?), Orc has an apocalyptic vision where the empire is destroyed and the oppressors of the world are stopped. Following the vision, Orc is able to get the Americans to rise up in revolution and they begin to attack their oppressors.
(From Wiki)

The image "A Breach in a City" served as the frontispiece for America and was originally shown on its own at the Royal Academy during April 1784. The work was probably based on the Gordon riots at Newgate Prison during June 1780.[10]
The implications of the work are taken up again in America with the King of England trembling as he sees Orc, the embodiment of the American colonies. The Angel of Albion believes Orc is the anti-christ and Orc believes the King of England is the same. This is followed by Orc's apocalyptic vision:[11]


Here's a fragment from Plate 6: 
"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 opressors 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 is (to me) one of Blake's most illustrious (apocalyptic) 
statements.  At this point in his life Blake (extravagant as
always) equates the successful American Revolution to the Parousia.
Blake as a young man applauded the Americans (as did half of the
Brits), but his attitude toward Orc changed when he saw all the
violence (In America and in England) that resulted from his outbreak. 

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