Saturday, April 12, 2014


British Museum
Plate 19

Descriptive Catalog, (E 543) 

"The giant Albion, was Patriarch of the Atlantic, he is the Atlas of the Greeks, one of those the Greeks called Titans. The stories of Arthur are the acts of Albion, applied to a Prince of the fifth century, who conquered Europe, and held the Empire of the world in the dark age, which the Romans never again recovered."

The mythology which is formative for the British is the Legend of King Arthur. Kathleen Raine's chapter The Sleep of Albion, in her book Golgonooza: City of Imagination connects King Arthur and Blake's Albion.
"Above all the Matter of Britain centres about a fifth-century, Romanized British king or warleader, King Arthur, his chivalry, his court at Camelot, his round table, and the mysterious sanctity, neither wholly Christian nor wholly pagan, of the  Holy Grail and its Quest." (Page 161)

"And finally there is the legend of Arthur's death-sleep, somewhere in a secret cave where, with his knights around him, he awaits the time when he will return to restore just rule to his kingdom and to repel its enemies." (Page 163)

"The unfamiliar supernatural figures are those 'gods' or archetypal energies Blake discerned within the national collective life; and the central figure, whose inner drama is the theme of the whole drama is 'the Giant Albion', the collective person, so to speak, of the nation...Albion  is the sleeping 'giant' (not a king, for the 'giant' is not one man but a nation) for whose re-awakening  the 'four Zoas' and the other persons of the myth, labor." (Page 167)

"Blake was versed in the Arthurian literature and traditions and it is plain that the Sleeping Arthur is the model of  the majestic sleeping form of the Giant Albion." (Page 167)

"But the 'sleep' of the Giant Albion is conceived by Blake not as the mere passage of time but as a state of apathy, of lowering of consciousness, of forgetfulness of higher things." (Page 171)

"Albion's state of 'eternal death' therefore is seen not in terms of some comfortable remote myth but clearly and precisely identified as the materialist ideology to which the West has succumbed." (Page 175)

Jerusalem, Plate 54, (E 203)
"But the Spectre like a hoar frost & a Mildew rose over Albion    
Saying, I am God O Sons of Men! I am your Rational Power!
Am I not Bacon & Newton & Locke who teach Humility to Man!
Who teach Doubt & Experiment & my two Wings Voltaire: Rousseau.
Where is that Friend of Sinners! that Rebel against my Laws!

Who teaches Belief to the Nations, & an unknown Eternal Life     
Come hither into the Desart & turn these stones to bread.
Vain foolish Man! wilt thou believe without Experiment?
And build a World of Phantasy upon my Great Abyss!
A World of Shapes in craving Lust & devouring appetite

So spoke the hard cold constrictive Spectre he is named Arthur   
Constricting into Druid Rocks round Canaan Agag & Aram & Pharoh

Then Albion drew England into his bosom in groans & tears
But she stretchd out her starry Night in Spaces against him. like
A long Serpent, in the Abyss of the Spectre which augmented
The Night with Dragon wings coverd with stars & in the Wings     
Jerusalem & Vala appeard: & above between the Wings magnificent
The Divine Vision dimly appeard in clouds of blood weeping."  

Arthur is not a hero to Blake but a state through which man travels; a stage of development which is demolished when man reaches the subsequent stage of development. The Spectre, man's rational power is here named Arthur perhaps in response to Arthur's failure to achieve the Holy Grail. Blake continues his list of British Royalty who created an empire through military, political and economic power but failed to give their people the liberty to develop their inner lives. To Blake it is the prophets and poets who create the conditions in which man's humanity can reach fruition.

Jerusalem, Plate 73, (E 228)    
"Voltaire insinuates that these Limits are the cruel work of God
Mocking the Remover of Limits & the Resurrection of the Dead     
Setting up Kings in wrath: in holiness of Natural Religion
Which Los with his mighty Hammer demolishes time on time
In miracles & wonders in the Four-fold Desart of Albion
Permanently Creating to be in Time Reveald & Demolishd
Satan Cain Tubal Nimrod Pharoh Priam Bladud Belin                
Arthur Alfred the Norman Conqueror Richard John
[Edward Henry Elizabeth James Charles William George]
And all the Kings & Nobles of the Earth & all their Glories
These are Created by Rahab & Tirzah in Ulro: but around

These, to preserve them from Eternal Death Los Creates           
Adam Noah Abraham Moses Samuel David Ezekiel
[Pythagoras Socrates Euripedes Virgil Dante Milton]  
Dissipating the rocky forms of Death, by his thunderous Hammer
As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains
So Men pass on: but States remain permanent for ever"       

Wikimedia and Yale Center for British Arts

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