|America plate i|
The shadowy daughter of Urthona stood before red Orc.
When fourteen suns had faintly journey'd o'er his dark abode;
His food she brought in iron baskets, his drink in cups of iron;
Crown'd with a helmet & dark hair the nameless female stood;
A quiver with its burning stores, a bow like that of night,
When pestilence is shot from heaven; no other arms she need:
Invulnerable tho' naked, save where clouds roll round her loins,
Their awful folds in the dark air; silent she stood as night;
For never from her iron tongue could voice or sound arise;
But dumb till that dread day when Orc assay'd his fierce embrace.
Dark virgin; said the hairy youth, thy father stern abhorr'd;
Rivets my tenfold chains while still on high my spirit soars;
Sometimes an eagle screaming in the sky, sometimes a lion,
Stalking upon the mountains, & sometimes a whale I lash
The raging fathomless abyss, anon a serpent folding
Around the pillars of Urthona, and round thy dark limbs,
On the Canadian wilds I fold, feeble my spirit folds.
For chaind beneath I rend these caverns; when thou bringest food
I howl my joy! and my red eyes seek to behold thy face
In vain! these clouds roll to & fro, & hide thee from my sight.
America, A Prophecy, was first engraved in 1793, in eighteen plates, and deals with Blake's interpretation of the American Revolution.
Orc (partly from Latin orcus, hell) is the spirit of freedom inspiring the American revolt. He is associated with the classical Titans, with the Norse god Loki, also imprisoned in a "cavern" (line 18) under a mountain, and with Esau, the rightful heir of Isaac (cf. "hairy youth" in line 11 with Gen. 27: 11).
The "Daughter of Urthona" is the land of America; a new civilization is taking possession of.it.
Urthona: the creative power of the imagination, later identified with Los, the hero of most of Blake's prophecies.]
fourteen: the age of puberty.
Iron: Urthona or Los in Blake is a blacksmith: (cf. Isa. 54.16.12] tenfold:
an allusion to the ten commandments of the moral law, used to restrain the impetus toward freedom.13]
Eagle: The four animals mentioned here and below represent both the four elements and the four quarters of America.
The two characters here are 'Red Orc' and Enitharmon? The story of the birth of Orc is elaborated in the Book of Urizen.:
Chapter VII. In this plate Orc takes the form of an eagle, a lion, a whale, a serpent. All these figures are elaborated in various places of Blake's poetry.
Book of Urizen (from The works of William Blake)
1. They namèd the child Orc; he grew,
Fed with milk of Enitharmon.
2. Los awoke her. O sorrow and pain!
A tight'ning girdle grew
Around his bosom. In sobbings
He burst the girdle in twain;
But still another girdle
Oppress'd his bosom. In sobbings
Again he burst it. Again
Another girdle succeeds.
The girdle was form'd by day;
By night was burst in twain.
4. They took Orc to the top of a mountain.
O how Enitharmon wept!
They chain'd his young limbs to the Rock
With the Chain of Jealousy,
Beneath Urizen's deathful Shadow.5. The Dead heard the voice of the Child,
And began to awake from sleep;
All things heard the voice of the Child,
And began to awake to life.8. He formèd scales to weigh,
He formèd massy weights;
He formèd a brazen quadrant;
He formèd golden compasses,
And began to explore the Abyss;
And he planted a garden of fruits.