Reposted from March 09, 2012.The stated intention of Satan in the Bard's Song was to exchange places with his brother Palamabron; to take over the more difficult job of ploughing or harrowing, which was Palamabron's daily task, in exchange for Satan's job of operating the mill.
Library of Congress, Rosenwald Collection
Milton, Plate 10
Palamabron, Rintrah & Satan
Now if Blake were addressing the period of time in which Milton lived, he might be talking about an exchange which was made in the political system which did not turn out according to expectations either. A rebel army removed the King from power (beheaded him). Their general, Cromwell, became the head of the government. His intention were 'mild' as were Satan's. But as the Chairman of the Council of State of the Commonwealth, he was unable to control the Parliament, the army or other factions of the nation. Palamabron's horses of the harrow went wild in the hands of Satan, the gnomes of the mill became drunk and disorderly under Palamabron.
Satan (Cromwell) appealed to the Council of the Eternals (the will of the people), whose judgement fell upon Rintrah (the army). Palamabron (Parliament), whose weakness or misjudgement allowed this to happen, was also unable to function in the role of governing to which he was not suited. Satan's assigned task was the operation of the mill which in this analogy would be the operation of government which sometimes came to a standstill when Parliament tried to take control. Rintrah (the army) could control militarily but couldn't create the conditions that would bring about peaceful cooperation which was sorely needed during the interregnum .
Now where does John Milton fit into this. He believed in revolution as the way to end political tyranny and end the enforcement of a state controlled religion. His skills in Latin (which was the language of diplomacy in that day) earned him a job in the revolutionary government. Besides functioning in the diplomatic relations of the state, he served as a spokesman (propagandist) for the policies of government. Military operations did not end with the monarchy; war was the rule not the exception. Milton saw from the inside the accumulation of mistakes which doomed the experiment in republicanism, but he hadn't the power to slow down the forces which were in motion. Until he died Cromwell had Milton's support but Milton's reservations increased as did tyranny within the government.
Blake had favored revolution as a young man but had come to realize that the removal of tyranny by violence would create more violence and more tyranny. He learned primarily from the American and French Revolutions but from the English Civil Wars also. He had come to believe that the chief fault with Greek culture was its devotion to war which was glorified in its poetry. He wanted to give his hero Milton another opportunity to look at his life and writings in the light of where the Prophetic Voice was leading them both. Milton and Blake agreed that liberty of conscience and complete separation of church and state were essentials of good government.
Why does Blake postulate that Milton was so moved by the Bard's Prophetic Song that he undertook a pilgrimage to the underworld? Might it be that Blake recognised that Milton had lived through the expectations, disappointments, reversals and inconsistencies during his association with Cromwell's government. As Blake travelled his journey through life and tried to master the challenges it presented, there would be more that he might learn from Milton and more that he might like to teach him. Blake sets up a scenario in which the two of them together might re-examine the possibilities of preparing for the New Age when all men are prophets.
Milton, Plate 1, (E 95)
Preface."The Stolen and Perverted Writings of Homer & Ovid: of Plato &
Cicero. which all Men ought to contemn: are set up by artifice
against the Sublime of the Bible. but when the New Age is at
leisure to Pronounce; all will be set right: & those Grand Works
of the more ancient & consciously & professedly Inspired Men,
will hold their proper rank, & the Daughters of Memory shall
become the Daughters of Inspiration. Shakspeare & Milton were
both curbd by the general malady & infection from the silly Greek
& Latin slaves of the Sword.
Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads
against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the
Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could, for
ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War."