Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Blake's Watercolours for the Poems of Thomas Gray  Ode for Music
"'Twas Milton Struck the deep-ton'd shell,
And, as the choral warblings round him swell,
Meek Newton self bends from his state sublime, 
And nods his hoary head, and listens to the rhyme."
Thomas Gray

In Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake, edited by Angela Esterhammer, we read:

"Before surveying Frey's views on the two poets separately, it is worth stressing the links between Milton and Blake in his work - even if each of the pieces of this volume is concerned with one writer or the other. Both are for Frye poet-prophets, the most important poet-prophets in the English tradition. Both are revolutionaries who lived in revolutionary times, and embraced the cause of political liberty because they saw it as inseparable from spiritual and religious liberty. Both are also revolutionaries of the imagination although Blake is more blatant in presenting the reader with idiosyncratic mythology, while Milton's departures from Christian orthodoxy appear more subtle and often need explication for a modern reader." (Page xix)

In a few words Frye has stated the bedrock on which Blake and Milton built the structure of which their poetry and thought were the expression. Our two poets ware analogues of the bards who, before there was written language, assembled the culture of a people into songs which narrated, unified and shared the experience which bound man to man and man to the divine.

Milton and Blake by writing from inspiration tied themselves to pre-literate times when the bard enjoyed a vital function in the society. The traditional bard's song did more than entertain his audience. It came from archetypal sources which expressed the fears, aspirations and potentialities of the people to whom (and for whom) he sang.    

Memory, to a pre-literate

“...is not so much a thing as an act, a gestalt uniting bard and audience in a shared consciousness. This phenomenon has little in common with that desiccated thing we literates call “memory.” In the world before writing, memory is the social act of remembering. It is commemoration”

(Hobart and Schiffman, 1998:15). 

Milton, Plate 30 [33], (E 129) 
"Beulah is evermore Created around Eternity; appearing
To the Inhabitants of Eden, around them on all sides.
But Beulah to its Inhabitants appears within each district       
As the beloved infant in his mothers bosom round incircled
With arms of love & pity & sweet compassion. But to
The Sons of Eden the moony habitations of Beulah,
Are from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant Rest.

And it is thus Created. Lo the Eternal Great Humanity            
To whom be Glory & Dominion Evermore Amen
Walks among all his awful Family seen in every face
As the breath of the Almighty. such are the words of man to man
In the great Wars of Eternity, in fury of Poetic Inspiration,
To build the Universe stupendous: Mental forms Creating          

But the Emanations trembled exceedingly, nor could they
Live, because the life of Man was too exceeding unbounded
His joy became terrible to them they trembled & wept
Crying with one voice. Give us a habitation & a place
In which we may be hidden under the shadow of wings"
Descriptive Catalogue, (E 537) 
"There are always these two
classes of learned sages, the poetical and the philosophical.
The painter has put them side by side, as if the youthful clerk
had put himself under the tuition of the mature poet.  Let
the Philosopher always be the servant and scholar of inspiration
and all will be happy." 

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