Tuesday, September 18, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his fourth illustration to L'Allegro:  

Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, (E 682) 

"Sometimes with secure delight
The upland Hamlets will invite
When the merry Bells ring round
And the jocund Rebecks Sound
To many a Youth & many a Maid
Dancing in the chequerd Shade
And Young & Old come forth to play 
On a Sunshine Holiday"

Blake states:
"In this Design is Introduced"

"Mountains on whose barren breast
The Labring Clouds do often rest"

Blake states:
"Mountains Clouds Rivers Trees appear Humanized on the Sunshine Holiday. The Church Steeple with its merry bells The Clouds arise from the bosoms of Mountains While Two Angels sound their Trumpets in the Heavens to announce the Sunshine -Holiday"

In the fourth illustration to L'Allegro Blake is insistent once again that we look at multiple layers of reality. Although the lines from Milton's poem call most of our attention to the 'Sunshine Holiday', Blake draws most of our attention to more ephemeral ideas. The mirthful group around the maypole, including only young people, are most expressive of the 'Sunshine Holiday' as an experience of mirth. Although Milton's lines includes the old in those who come out to play, Blake includes the old in a subdued group composed of the weaker and more disabled elements of society. These two groups, the revellers and less-advantaged, comprise the lower section of the image which shows the natural or material existence. Blake reminds us again of contrary states which epitomize our natural world.

On the right hand side of the picture the soul or psyche, as a butterfly, rises near the crippled elder and the helpful child. We see the soul ascending to the level of what may be seen as a Christ figure with a compassionate face and a finger pointing upward. Here the image transitions to a level beyond the material which Milton alluded to  with the words: "Mountains on whose barren breast The Labring Clouds do often rest."

As in the second illustration to L'Allegro portraying the Lark as a messenger, where each figure represented something other than what is seen by the eye, the figures in the upper part of this illustration are more than they appear to be.

Working upward in the picture we find a woman with a wine glass at her lips who is pouring forth from an urn a flowing stream of water. The wine she drinks is transformation, the water she pours is materiality; the world below is the natural world, above is the spiritual world.  

The larger central figures are those mentioned by Milton: the mountain and the cloud, perhaps in the guise of Vala and Luvah in their eternal aspects.

Numerous figures blowing trumpets, offering crowns, playing instruments, presenting the feast, providing ambrosia, and streaming past the sun as if the light itself, complete the composition of Blake's Sunshine Holiday.

Letters, To Butts, (E 712)
"The Light of the Morning
Heavens Mountains adorning
In particles bright
The jewels of Light
Distinct shone & clear--
Amazd & in fear
I each particle gazed
Astonishd Amazed
For each was a Man
Human formd.  Swift I ran
For they beckond to me
Remote by the Sea
Saying.  Each grain of Sand
Every Stone on the Land
Each rock & each hill
Each fountain & rill
Each herb & each tree
Mountain hill Earth & Sea
Cloud Meteor & Star
Are Men Seen Afar" 

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