Thursday, March 01, 2012


Upper section of Plate 1, Milton, from Wikimedia

The compelling attachment of Blake to Milton is most notable in that he wrote one of his two long illuminated poems in response to Milton's life and works. The process of writing Milton which was begun during Blake's residence in Felpham is explained in this letter:

Letters, To Mr Butts, 1803, (E 728)
"But none can know the Spiritual Acts of my three years
Slumber on the banks of the Ocean unless he has seen them in the
Spirit or unless he should read My long Poem descriptive of those
Acts for I have in these three years composed an immense number
of verses on One Grand Theme Similar to Homers Iliad or Miltons
Paradise Lost the Person & Machinery intirely new to the
Inhabitants of Earth (some of the Persons Excepted) I have written
this Poem from immediate Dictation twelve or sometimes twenty or
thirty lines at a time without Premeditation & even against my
Will. the Time it has taken in writing was thus renderd Non
Existent. & an immense Poem Exists which seems to be the Labour
of a long Life all producd without Labour or Study. I mention
this to shew you what I think the Grand Reason of my being
brought down here"

Blake's experience of his 'Spiritual Acts' at Felpham became, through his imagination, united with the poet Milton's spiritual journey which leads his character, Milton, to a realisation and a resolution:

Milton , Plate 14 [15], (E 108)
"I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One!
He is my Spectre! in my obedience to loose him from my Hells
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death."

S. Foster Damon, in A Blake Dictionary tells us: "The act of the poem is one, but the causes are so complex that Blake has to invent an original structure, to suggest the simultaneousness of all the material. He introduces material without any preparation, abruptly changing the subject over and over...
Had Blake taken time to introduce his material in logical sequence, he would have ruined the effect of culminating immediacy."

Damon associated 9 of Blake's major poems with 8 works from Milton (Page 274-5):

L'Allegro and Il Penseroso - "Blake expanded the idea of the 'Two Contrary States of the Human Soul', the extremes of ecstasy and despair, and bound Songs of Innocence to the Songs of Experience by pairing contrasted lyrics, so that each complemented the other."

"Comus describes a young girl on the verge of Experience" as does Blake's Book of Thel.

Corresponding to Milton's divorce pamphlet is Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion both of which explore the need for love in marriage.

Milton's political works correspond to Blake's America "which attack the policies of their kings and hail the revolution against them."

Milton's The Christian Doctrine is contrasted to Blake's Marriage of Heaven & Hell which goes further in proclaiming a "new view of the universe."

Milton's Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity is quoted in Blake's Europe which ironically attacks one of Milton's early themes: Chastity.

Paradise Lost is rewritten by Blake as the Four Zoas.

Milton is a character in Blake's poem Milton which is a study of "spiritual development".

Milton's History of Britain is "expanded to include the fall and resurrection of Albion" in Blake's Jerusalem.

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