Tuesday, October 02, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his fourth illustration to Il Penseroso:

Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)

"And when the Sun begins to fling 
His flaring Beams me Goddess bring 
To arched walks of twilight Groves 
And Shadows brown that Sylvan Coves" 

Blake wrote: "Milton led by Melancholy into the Groves away from the Suns flaring Beams who is seen in the Heavens throwing his darts & flames of fire The Spirits of the Trees on each side are seen under the domination of Insects raised by the Suns heat" 

 To escape from the darts and beams of the sun Milton enters the grove led by Melancholy. The fierce energy of emotion impels Milton to retreat to the protection of a dimmed consciousness. The grove offers protection from the intensity of unscreened light, like the wilderness offered it to Jesus after his baptism. But the introspection in the wilderness is more that a retreat; it is an exploration of options leading in contrasting directions. The entrance into this state of indecision presupposes that there will be an exit as well. The unacceptable options, like the 'Insects raised by the Suns heat', may be discarded and strength may be gathered to 'bear the beams of love.'

Songs of Innocence, Song 9, (E 9) 
"And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love, 
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face 
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove."

In Blake's poetry, as in Milton's, poor choices were often made and led into labyrinths of affliction. A moment of decision in Blake's Europe does not lead to a return to the light but to the rise of Orc and the assumption of power by Enitharmon.
Europe, Plate 3, (E 61)
"Again the night is come    
That strong Urthona takes his rest,                              
And Urizen unloos'd from chains                                  
Glows like a meteor in the distant north
Stretch forth your hands and strike the elemental strings!
Awake the thunders of the deep.
PLATE 4     
The shrill winds wake                                            
Till all the sons of Urizen look out and envy Los:
Sieze all the spirits of life and bind
Their warbling joys to our loud strings                          

Bind all the nourishing sweets of earth                          
To give us bliss, that we may drink the sparkling wine of Los
And let us laugh at war,
Despising toil and care,
Because the days and nights of joy, in lucky hours renew.

Arise O Orc from thy deep den,                                   
First born of Enitharmon rise!
And we will crown thy head with garlands of the ruddy vine;
For now thou art bound;
And I may see thee in the hour of bliss, my eldest born.

The horrent Demon rose, surrounded with red stars of fire,
Whirling about in furious circles round the immortal fiend.

Then Enitharmon down descended into his red light,
And thus her voice rose to her children, the distant heavens reply. 
Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!                          
Who shall I call? Who shall I send?
That Woman, lovely Woman! may have dominion?"


Cara Mico said...

Were the myths of the Zoas based on anything or was that all Blake? Did he take from Greek mythology?

ellie said...

Thanks for your comment Cara.

Blake assimilated ideas from multiple sources. Greek thought for Blake, as for all of Western civilisation, was influential.

We often post on subjects related to ideas found in Greek mythology and culture. Here is one post you may find helpful: http://ramhornd.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-influence.html

Other posts may be found under the label MYTHOLOGY.