Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)
"And may at last my weary AgeFind out the peaceful Hermitage
The hairy Gown the mossy Cell
Where I may sit & rightly spell
Of every Star that heavn doth shew
And every Herb that sips the dew
Till old Experience do attain
To somewhat like Prophetic strain"
"Milton in his Old Age sitting in his Mossy Cell Contemplating the Constellations. surrounded by the Spirits of the Herbs & Flowers. bursts forth into a rapturous Prophetic Strain"
The lower part of illustration six of Il Penseroso can be thought of as showing Milton's achievements in life. The lower right hand corner shows a nursing mother and two infants. The lower left shows a woman being drawn from the earth by another woman who reaches for heaven. In the center are a man and woman entwined in loving embrace below garlands of flowers. Beside Milton is his open book resting on a golden stand. A candle of illumination burns beside the book.
The expression on Milton's face betrays his hearing the 'rapturous Prophetic Strain'. A line in Il Penseroso not quoted by Blake mentions Milton's desire to 'Dissolve me into exstasies, And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes.' Blake shows Milton not with the eyes of a blind man but with eyes that see the world of vision, not in the cave, not in the sky, but in the dimension which illumines the infinite, and eternal.
Milton's cave is filled with the ornaments of a successful life, but he is still portrayed in a cave; even with the ability to perceive the visionary world Milton has not been released from the cave of his mind into the ever expanding World of Eternity. He has not been able:
"To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. the Human Imagination", Jerusalem, Plate 5, (E 147)
Milton wrote the following sonnet after the onset of his blindness and before the compositions of his great poetic works. Blake pictures Milton as having learned to watch and wait and serve as were the goals he expressed in his poem.
"When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
Important psychological work is accomplished in the deep caverns of the unconscious. This image may imply that Milton's work is incomplete, that he is still gathering together the 'scatterd portions of his immortal body'. When Jesus restored Lazarus to life it occurred in three stages, the last of which was to come forth from the sepulchre. Picturing Milton both as a man who travelled a great distance on the journey to wholeness, but who remained trapped in his limited confines, speaks to the condition of man waiting for the final revelation and redemption.
Four Zoas, Night VIII, Page 114, (E 384) "Listen I will tell thee what is done in the caverns of the grave PAGE 114  The Lamb of God has rent the Veil of Mystery soon to return In Clouds & Fires around the rock & the Mysterious tree As the seed waits Eagerly watching for its flower & fruit Anxious its little soul looks out into the clear expanse To see if hungry winds are abroad with their invisible army So Man looks out in tree & herb & fish & bird & beast Collecting up the scatterd portions of his immortal body Into the Elemental forms of every thing that grows He tries the sullen north wind riding on its angry furrows The sultry south when the sun rises & the angry east When the sun sets when the clods harden & the cattle stand Drooping & the birds hide in their silent nests. he stores his thoughts As in a store house in his memory he regulates the forms Of all beneath & all above & in the gentle West Reposes where the Suns heat dwells he rises to the Sun And to the Planets of the Night & to the stars that gild The Zodiac & the stars that sullen stand to north & south He touches the remotest pole & in the Center weeps That Man should Labour & sorrow & learn & forget & return To the dark valley whence he came to begin his labours anew In pain he sighs in pain he labours in his universe Screaming in birds over the deep & howling in the Wolf Over the slain & moaning in the cattle & in the winds And weeping over Orc & Urizen in clouds & flaming fires And in the cries of birth & in the groans of death his voice Is heard throughout the Universe whereever a grass grows Or a leaf buds The Eternal Man is seen is heard is felt And all his Sorrows till he reassumes his ancient bliss Such are the words of Ahania & Enion. Los hears & weeps And Los & Enitharmon took the Body of the Lamb Down from the Cross & placd it in a Sepulcher which Los had hewn For himself in the Rock of Eternity trembling & in despair Jerusalem wept over the Sepulcher two thousand Years"