Monday, January 13, 2014


Prominently featured in Illustration 3 of Comus is a single bull or ox in the Thomas Set and a pair in the Butts set. Milton mentions the ox only to signify the time of day. Blake chooses to place the ox centrally in his illustration to allude to its use as a sacrificial animal. The myths surrounding Bacchus involve situations calling for sacrifice. Blake calls to our attention that sacrifice may be required in the mask without specifying who or what may be sacrificed.  

Comparing Illustration 3 of the Thomas and Butts sets we see that Blake make numerous changes although he maintained the same elements. The grapes are less prominent the second set and the boys look more mature. The boys' swords which lay on the ground in the first image do not appear in the second picture. The Butts illustration shows a path leading from the Lady toward her brothers. The form, size and position of the attendant Spirit is altered. Comus looks toward the brothers although in the first image he focused on the swords.

The conversation between Comus and the Lady which relates the incident of Comus encountering the brothers, is pictured by Blake in Illustration 2. We read here Comus' retelling of that event. By describing in glowing terms his meeting with the brothers, Comus convinces the Lady that he sincerely wishes to give her assistance. The Lady naively believes she will be safer with the smooth stranger than if she waits for her brothers return.

Wikimedia Commons
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 3
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton
Line 91
[To Lady] Two such I saw, what time the labour'd Oxe
In his loose traces from the furrow came,

And the swink't hedger at his Supper sate;
I saw them under a green mantling vine
That crawls along the side of yon small hill,
Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots,
Their port was more then human, as they stood;
I took it for a faƫry vision
Of som gay creatures of the element
That in the colours of the Rainbow live
And play i'th plighted clouds. I was aw-strook,
And as I past, I worshipt: if those you seek,
It were a journey like the path to Heav'n
To help you find them.  Lady: Gentle villager
What readiest way would bring me to that place?

Comus: Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
Lady: To find out that, good Shepherd, I suppose,
In such a scant allowance of Star-light,
Would overtask the best Land-Pilots art,
Without the sure guess of well-practiz'd feet. 

Comus: I know each lane, and every alley green
Dingle or bushy dell of this wilde Wood,
And every bosky bourn from side to side
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood,
And if your stray attendance be yet lodg'd,
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low roosted lark
From her thach't pallat rowse, if otherwise
I can conduct you Lady to a low
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe
Till further quest'.  Lady: Shepherd I take thy word,
And trust thy honest offer'd courtesie,
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds
With smoaky rafters, then in tapstry Halls
And Courts of Princes, where it first was nam'd,
And yet is most pretended: In a place
Less warranted then this, or less secure
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it,
Eie me blest Providence, and square my triall
To my proportion'd strength. Shepherd lead on.——

In the following passage in The Book of Urizen Blake uses the ox in the slaughterhouse to symbolize the sorry state which man endures under the rule of his Reasoning Power or Selfhood. In contrasting selfish and selfless love in The Clod & the Pebble, a pair of cattle join the sheep as representing lives lived for others not their own ease or pleasure. Blake sees that the weak and unprotected are sacrificed to the cruelty of self-righteous desire.
The Book of Urizen, Plate 23, (E 81)
"4. He in darkness clos'd, view'd all his race,
And his soul sicken'd! he curs'd
Both sons & daughters; for he saw
That no flesh nor spirit could keep                        
His iron laws one moment.

5. For he saw that life liv'd upon death
Plate 25
The Ox in the slaughter house moans
The Dog at the wintry door
And he wept, & he called it Pity
And his tears flowed down on the winds

6. Cold he wander'd on high, over their cities              
In weeping & pain & woe!
And where-ever he wanderd in sorrows
Upon the aged heavens
A cold shadow follow'd behind him
Like a spiders web, moist, cold, & dim                      
Drawing out from his sorrowing soul
The dungeon-like heaven dividing.
Where ever the footsteps of Urizen
Walk'd over the cities in sorrow.

7. Till a Web dark & cold, throughout all                   
The tormented element stretch'd
From the sorrows of Urizens soul
And the Web is a Female in embrio  
None could break the Web, no wings of fire." 
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 32, (E 19)  
"The CLOD & the PEBBLE  

Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

     So sang a little Clod of Clay,
     Trodden with the cattles feet:
     But a Pebble of the brook,
     Warbled out these metres meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight:
Joys in anothers loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite." 

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