Tuesday, January 21, 2014


In the Butts picture for the 5th illustration for Comus, Blake departs considerably from his earlier image. At the table are animals known for extremes: the elephant for his size, the lion as a predator, the hog for consuming food, the bird as a scavenger of the dead. Blake is illustrating the excessive appetites in nature with which Comus proposes the Lady should feel free to try in order 'to please, and sate the curious taste.'

Wikimedia Commons  
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 5

A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

Line 709
"Wherefore did Nature powre her bounties froth,
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the Seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please, and sate the curious taste?"

 Line 678
"Why should you be so cruel to your self,
And to those dainty limms which nature lent
For gentle usage, and soft delicacy?
But you invert the cov'nants of her trust,"


The withered man on the left may represent what Blake sees as the wisdom which Comus follows. Young and vigorous in appearance as the tempter, his philosophy is weak and weary when put to the test. Comus invites the Lady to be wise by tasting his wisdom. 

Line 811
"But this will cure all streight, one sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight
Beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise, and taste." 

There is another more significant addition to illustration 5 of the Butts set: the serpent seen in the cloud along Comus' wand. Any pretense of beneficence is destroyed when the wand is seen in conjunction with the figure of the serpent. However the serpent seems to emanate from the vial held by the old man and not from the dominant image of Comus. The figures of Comus and the Lady seem less at odds in this illustration than in the one in the Thomas Set. Comus is even less threatening, more distressed; and the lady less self-protective. Perhaps Blake is indicating the threat is less from the sexuality represented by the figure of Comus and more from the materialist ideas of natural philosophy apparent in his arguments.


The lament of Los over his estranged Enitharmon may describe the feelings of Comus when he finds the Lady unobtainable. 

Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 81,(E 357)
"Then Los mournd on the dismal wind in his jealous lamentation

Why can I not Enjoy thy beauty   Lovely Enitharmon
When I return from clouds of Grief in the wandring Elements
Where thou in thrilling joy in beaming summer loveliness 
Delectable reposest ruddy in my absence flaming with beauty
Cold pale in sorrow at my approach trembling at my terrific
Forehead & eyes thy lips decay like roses in the spring 
How art thou Shrunk thy grapes that burst in summers vast Excess
Shut up in little purple covering faintly bud & die    
Thy olive trees that pourd down oil upon a thousand hills
Sickly look forth & scarcely stretch their branches to the plain
Thy roses that expanded in the face of glowing morn
PAGE 82 
Hid in a little silken veil scarce breathe & faintly shine
Thy lilies that gave light what time the morning looked forth
Hid in the Vales faintly lament & no one hears their voice
All things beside the woful Los enjoy the delights of beauty
Once how I sang & calld the beasts & birds to their delights 
Nor knew that I alone exempted from the joys of love
Must war with secret monsters of the animating worlds
O that I had not seen the day then should I be at rest
Nor felt the stingings of desire nor longings after life
For life is Sweet to Los the wretched to his winged woes   
Is given a craving cry that they may sit at night on barren rocks
And whet their beaks & snuff the air & watch the opening dawn"

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