Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)
"Come pensive Nun devout & pure Sober stedfast & demure All in Robe of darkest grain Flowing with majestic train Come but keep thy wonted state With even step & musing gait And looks commercing with the Skies _____ And join with thee calm Peace & Quiet Spare Fast who oft with Gods doth diet And hears the Muses in a ring Ay round about Joves altar sing And add to these retired Leisure Who in trim Gardens takes his pleasure But first & Chiefest with thee bring Him who yon soars on golden Wing Guiding the Fiery wheeled Throne The Cherub Contemplation _____ Less Philomel will deign a song In her sweetest saddest plight Smoothing the rugged Brow of Night While Cynthia Checks her dragon yoke Gently o'er the accustomd Oak"
Blake Wrote: "These Personifications are all brought together in this design surrounding the Principal Figure Who is Melancholy herself"The first illustration of Il Penseroso like the first of L'Allegro represents the central figure of the poem surrounded by associated images which are overtly mentioned in Milton's poem. Since Blake took this literal approach to the two illustrations we can assume he is starting us out in each set of illustrations at the first level (which he calls Newton's sleep) of the fourfold levels of vision and will progress through others.
In Jerusalem Blake calls the Emanation a melancholy Shadow.
Jerusalem, Plate 53, (E 208)
Man divided from his Emanation is a dark Spectre
His Emanation is an ever-weeping melancholy Shadow
But she is made receptive of Generation thro' mercy"
Blake's personal experience of Melancholy had nothing to recommend it.
Letters, To Cumberland, (E 706)
"I begin to
Emerge from a Deep pit of Melancholy, Melancholy without any real
reason for it, a Disease which God keep you from & all good men."
The figure at the top of the illustration is 'Him who yon soars on golden Wing / Guiding the Fiery wheeled Throne / The Cherub Contemplation'. As a young man wrote a poem Contemplation which was published in Poetical Sketches.
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