Wednesday, July 29, 2020


For each of the eight images in the Large Book of Designs, I will republish an earlier post to shed light on how the picture fits into Blake's overall myth of Creation, Fall and Apocalypse.

3) Orc 

Friday, May 28, 2010


None of Blake's characters is more complex or contradictory than is Orc. You may remember him as the first son of Los and Enitharmon who so aroused his father's jealousy that he was taken to a mountainside and chained to a rock. Los as prophecy was jealous of Orc as revolution. However Rintrah (just wrath), Palamabron (pity), Theomorton (frustrate desire), and Bromion (logic) are also identified as Los's first four sons which Damon explains as representing an analysis of Orc. (A Blake Dictionary, Page 309)

Orc's body became so enrooted to the rock that when his parents later tried to release him, they were unable to do so. As this passage notes he was the embodiment of the 'fires of Eternal Youth'.

Milton, Plate 29 [31], (E 127)
"But Rintrah & Palamabron govern over Day & Night
In Allamanda & Entuthon Benython where Souls wail:
Where Orc incessant howls burning in fires of Eternal Youth,
Within the vegetated mortal Nerves; for every Man born is joined
Within into One mighty Polypus, and this Polypus is Orc."

In this picture Orc is both the chained youth in the cruciform position and the figure enclosed underground in a fetal position. Orc has taken on his function as revolution which must be controlled. The potential for revolution which has erupted in the colonies and threatened Europe was expressed by Orc in the book America. Revolution which had been attractive to Blake in theory became repulsive to him when he saw it in actual practice in France.


America, PLATE 8, (E 54)
"The terror answerd: I am Orc, wreath'd round the accursed tree:
The times are ended; shadows pass the morning gins to break;
The fiery joy, that Urizen perverted to ten commands,
What night he led the starry hosts thro' the wide wilderness:
That stony law I stamp to dust: and scatter religion abroad
To the four winds as a torn book, & none shall gather the leaves;
But they shall rot on desart sands, & consume in bottomless deeps;
To make the desarts blossom, & the deeps shrink to their fountains,
And to renew the fiery joy, and burst the stony roof.
That pale religious letchery, seeking Virginity,
May find it in a harlot, and in coarse-clad honesty
The undefil'd tho' ravish'd in her cradle night and morn:
For every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life;
Because the soul of sweet delight can never be defil'd.
Fires inwrap the earthly globe, yet man is not consumd;
Amidst the lustful fires he walks: his feet become like brass,
His knees and thighs like silver, & his breast and head like gold.
And Satan is the Spectre of Orc & Orc is the generate Luvah"

As the generate form of Luvah (emotion) which came into being as a result of the fall, Orc came under the dominion of Urizen the great lawgiver. As the dragon form, 'red Orc' is supressed energy seeking release. Suffering under the restraints of Urizen's system Orc explodes into revolution.

Milton Percival in William Blake's Circle of Destiny gives us this insight: "But, though the rational mind fears the fiery form of Orc, the imaginative mind knows that it is not evil, but rather an indictment of evil, a revelation of the mistaken character of the authority which has brought it into being. Orc is the personification of a deathless phenomenon, the spirit of revolution that arises when energy is repressed."

Urizen diverts Orc's energy into false religion, the Tree of Mystery, whereon Orc becomes the serpent and subsequently enters the state of Satan.

Four Zoas, Night viii, (E 380)
"The State namd Satan never can be redeemd in all Eternity
But when Luvah in Orc became a Serpent he des[c]ended into
That State calld Satan"

In the apocalypse Orc reverts to his eternal form Luvah and joins Jesus in ushering in the new age.


As always we can see the psyche of Blake being dealt with in his characters. Forces within seek expression in Blake's life; prophecy or imagination cannot let revolution take over dominance. The energy or revolution is a valuable asset but unfortunately cannot be released at will. Reason, the conventional, conservative force may be able to control revolution, but to do so revolution's energy must be diverted in another direction since it can't be eliminated. This may lead to deeper degrees of error, since error given the freedom to act, will go to the extreme. Revolution is not permanent; it either subsides or or leads to a breaking up of the cycle and the initiation of a new paradigm.

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