|Yale Center for British Art|
Through the images incorporated in this picture of Albion, Blake may be suggesting a turning point in cosmic events. The ouroboros (seen as a snake around Albion's head), as a representation of cyclical experience reminds us that Albion may break the cycle or repeat it. The peacock feathers surrounding the head remind us that this is a point of transition. The Seven Eyes of God tell us that Albion is under the protection of the Eternals though he has not returned from the world of time. Adding the five fainter eyes we arrive at the number twelve which points to the Zodiac, another image of cyclical movement. (Percival is able to correlate the stages traversed in Blake's myth with passage through the signs of the Zodiac in Chapter VIII of his book.)
Using alchemical symbolism, Percival makes this observation, "The feminine mercury passes from black to white through an intermediate stage in which all the colors assert themselves. The symbol of this stage is the peacock's tail. The appearance of this symbol is a good omen; it means that the fire is doing its work, that death is awakening into life, or, as Paracelsus puts it alchemically, "it showeth the workings of the philosopher's mercury on the vulgar mercury."
(Milton O. Percival, William Blake's Circle of Destiny, Page 206.)
Just as Blake wanted us to think of the events of the Old and New Testaments as we read the words of the text, in the illumination he is calling to our minds the seven days of creation, the twelve tribes of Israel, and whatever associations with the numbers seven and twelve which we may have from our reading of history, literature and numerology. The feet, cold to the point of blue death, are surrounded by the fires of destruction and redemption. Albion grasps the stone tenaciously. The face of fear, anguish and confusion suggests an agonizing decision taking process like that undergone by Jesus in the Garden.
Between the giant feet of Albion is Los, the one who 'stood forth' to watch over Albion until his dark nightmare was over.
Blake bombards us with images, as he makes us ask the question, "Which direction will Albion choose?"
Jerusalem, Plate 33 , (E 179) "And One stood forth from the Divine Family &,said I feel my Spectre rising upon me! Albion! arouze thyself! Why dost thou thunder with frozen Spectrous wrath against us? The Spectre is, in Giant Man; insane, and most deform'd. Thou wilt certainly provoke my Spectre against thine in fury! He has a Sepulcher hewn out of a Rock ready for thee: And a Death of Eight thousand years forg'd by thyself, upon The point of his Spear! if thou persistest to forbid with Laws Our Emanations, and to attack our secret supreme delights So Los spoke: But when he saw blue death in Albions feet, Again he join'd the Divine Body, following merciful; While Albion fled more indignant! revengeful covering Jerusalem, Plate 62, (E 212) "Repose on me till the morning of the Grave. I am thy life. Jerusalem replied. I am an outcast: Albion is dead! I am left to the trampling foot & the spurning heel! A Harlot I am calld. I am sold from street to street! I am defaced with blows & with the dirt of the Prison! And wilt thou become my Husband O my Lord & Saviour? Shall Vala bring thee forth! shall the Chaste be ashamed also? I see the Maternal Line, I behold the Seed of the Woman! Cainah, & Ada & Zillah & Naamah Wife of Noah. Shuahs daughter & Tamar & Rahab the Canaanites: Ruth the Moabite & Bathsheba of the daughters of Heth Naamah the Ammonite, Zibeah the Philistine, & Mary These are the Daughters of Vala, Mother of the Body of death But I thy Magdalen behold thy Spiritual Risen Body Shall Albion arise? I know he shall arise at the Last Day! I know that in my flesh I shall see God: but Emanations Are weak. they know not whence they are, nor whither tend. Jesus replied. I am the Resurrection & the Life. I Die & pass the limits of possibility, as it appears To individual perception. Luvah must be Created And Vala; for I cannot leave them in the gnawing Grave. But will prepare a way for my banished-ones to return Come now with me into the villages. walk thro all the cities. Tho thou art taken to prison & judgment, starved in the streets I will command the cloud to give thee food & the hard rock To flow with milk & wine, tho thou seest me not a season Even a long season & a hard journey & a howling wilderness! Tho Valas cloud hide thee & Luvahs fires follow thee! Only believe & trust in me, Lo. I am always with thee! So spoke the Lamb of God while Luvahs Cloud reddening above Burst forth in streams of blood upon the heavens & dark night Involvd Jerusalem. & the Wheels of Albions Sons turnd hoarse Over the Mountains & the fires blaz'd on Druid Altars And the Sun set in Tyburns Brook where Victims howl & cry. But Los beheld the Divine Vision among the flames of the Furnaces Therefore he lived & breathed in hope. but his tears fell incessant Because his Children were closd from him apart: & Enitharmon Dividing in fierce pain: also the Vision of God was closd in clouds Of Albions Spectres, that Los in despair oft sat, & often ponderd On Death Eternal in fierce shudders upon the mountains of Albion Walking: & in the vales in howlings fierce, then to his Anvils Turning, anew began his labours, tho in terrible pains!"