Sunday, November 18, 2018


Yale Center for British Art
America a Prophecy
 Plate 2
America a Prophecy, Plate 2, (E 52)
"Silent as despairing love, and strong as jealousy,
The hairy shoulders rend the links, free are the wrists of fire;
Round the terrific loins he siez'd the panting struggling womb;
It joy'd: she put aside her clouds & smiled her first-born smile;
As when a black cloud shews its lightnings to the silent deep.   

Soon as she saw the terrible boy then burst the virgin cry.

I know thee, I have found thee, & I will not let thee go;
Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa; 
And thou art fall'n to give me life in regions of dark death.
On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions          
Endur'd by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep:
I see a serpent in Canada, who courts me to his love;
In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;
I see a Whale in the South-sea, drinking my soul away.
O what limb rending pains I feel. thy fire & my frost            
Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by thy lightnings rent;
This is eternal death; and this the torment long foretold.

[The stern Bard ceas'd, asham'd of his own song; enrag'd he swung
His harp aloft sounding, then dash'd its shining frame against
A ruin'd pillar in glittring fragments; silent he turn'd away,   
And wander'd down the vales of Kent in sick & drear lamentings.]"

The voice that has been silent speaks, the body that has been chained breaks forth. The combination of the fire of Orc and the frost of the Daughter of Urthona mingle to release the pent up anger which was long suppressed.
The forces of renewal are not limited to one continent, one race or one time. Change stirs beneath the surface as a serpent, a lion or a whale: it breaks forth as a falling Image of God, or as those struggling with afflictions. It is given a voice when the imprisoned power climbs from the dark cavern into the air and light of realization.

The last line, 'This is eternal death; and this the torment long foretold,' speaks of two alternatives. The decision is not between the status quo and the outbreak of revolution. Revolution is the symptom not the disease. The choice is between the endless cycle of birth and death, and the torment of the end-time: the long hoped for reordering which marks the reentry into Eden embodied in the annihilation of everything which can be annihilated.

When Blake was producing America he struggled with how open he could or should be in exposing his sentiments about his opposition to monarchy. Write he must, but should he risk his life by putting into print his 'seditious' thoughts about the government? He deleted plates which he decided were too inflammatory. At the end of two copies of this page are the lines beginning, 'The stern Bard ceas'd, asham'd.' These lines are thought to be late additions to the text which were eliminated before printing. Perhaps the deleted lines from the Preludium expressed the shame Blake felt for not having the courage to maintain overt references to the king which were on the deleted plates. 

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