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William Blake's Romantic Cosmology: America: A Prophecy

From: America: A Prophecy


Albion’s Angel stood beside the Stone of Night, and saw        30

The Terror like a comet, or more like the planet red,

That once enclos’d the terrible wandering comets in its sphere.

Then, Mars, thou wast our centre, and the planets three flew round

Thy crimson disk; so, ere the Sun was rent from thy red sphere,

The Spectre glow’d, his horrid length staining the temple long        35

With beams of blood; and thus a voice came forth, and shook the temple:—


‘The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;

The grace is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrappèd up;

The bones of death, the cov’ring clay, the sinews shrunk and dry’d

Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing, awakening,        40

Spring like redeemèd captives, when their bonds and bars are burst,

Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field,

Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air;

Let the enchainèd soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,

Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,        45

Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;

And let his wife and children return from the oppressor’s scourge.

They look behind at every step, and believe it is a dream,

Singing: “The Sun has left his blackness, and has found a fresher morning,

And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night;        50

For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease.”


In thunders ends the voice. Then Albion’s Angel wrathful burnt

Beside the Stone of Night; and, like the Eternal Lion’s howl

In famine and war, reply’d: ‘Art thou not Orc, who serpent-form’d

Stands at the gate of Enitharmon to devour her children?        55

Blasphemous Demon, Antichrist, hater of Dignities,

Lover of wild rebellion, and transgressor of God’s Law,

Why dost thou come to Angel’s eyes in this terrific form?’


The Terror answe’d: ‘I am Orc, wreath’d round the accursèd tree:

The times are ended; shadows pass, the morning’ gins to break;        60

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, and none shall gather the leaves;

But they shall rot on desert sands, and consume in bottomless deeps,        65

To make the deserts blossom, and the deeps shrink to their fountains,

And to renew the fiery joy, and burst the stony roof;

That pale religious lechery, 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;        70

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life;

Because the soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.

Fires enwrap the earthly globe, yet Man is not consum’d;

Amidst the lustful fires he walks; his feet become like brass,

His knees and thighs like silver, and his breast and head like gold.        75


...


Then had America been lost, o’erwhelm’d by the Atlantic,

And Earth had lost another portion of the Infinite;        175

But all rush together in the night in wrath and raging fire.

The red fires rag’d! The plagues recoil’d! Then roll’d they back with fury

On Albion’s Angels: then the Pestilence began in streaks of red

Across the limbs of Albion’s Guardian; the spotted plague smote Bristol’s,

And the Leprosy London’s Spirit, sickening all their bands:        180

The millions sent up a howl of anguish and threw off their hammer’d mail,

And cast their swords and spears to earth, and stood, a naked multitude:

Albion’s Guardian writhèd in torment on the eastern sky,

Pale, quiv’ring toward the brain his glimmering eyes, teeth chattering,

Howling and shuddering, his legs quivering, convuls’d each muscle andsinew:        185

Sick’ning lay London’s Guardian, and the ancient mitred York,

Their heads on snowy hills, their ensigns sick’ning in the sky.

The plagues creep on the burning winds, driven by flames of Orc,

And by the fierce Americans rushing together in the night,

Driven o’er the Guardians of Ireland, and Scotland and Wales.        190

They, spotted with plagues, forsook the frontiers; and their banners, sear’d

With fires of hell, deform their ancient Heavens with shame and woe.

Hid in his caves the Bard of Albion felt the enormous plagues,

And a cowl of flesh grew o’er his head, and scales on his back and ribs;

And, rough with black scales, all his Angels fright their ancient heavens.        195

The doors of marriage are open, and the Priests, in rustling scales,

Rush into reptile coverts, hiding from the fires of Orc,

That play around the golden roofs in wreaths of fierce desire,

Leaving the Females naked and glowing with the lusts of youth.


For the Female Spirits of the dead, pining in bonds of religion,        200

Run from their fetters; reddening, and in long-drawn arches sitting,

They feel the nerves of youth renew, and desires of ancient times

Over their pale limbs, as a vine when the tender grape appears.


Over the hills, the vales, the cities rage the red flames fierce:

The Heavens melted from North to South; and Urizen, who sat        205

Above all heavens, in thunders wrapp’d, emerg’d his leprous head

From out his holy shrine, his tears in deluge piteous

Falling into the deep sublime; flagg’d with grey-brow’d snows

And thunderous visages, his jealous wings wav’d over the deep;

Weeping in dismal howling woe, he dark descended, howling        210

Around the smitten bands, clothèd in tears and trembling, shudd’ring, cold.

His storèd snows he pourèd forth, and his icy magazine,

He open’d on the deep, and on the Atlantic sea, white, shiv’ring;

Leprous his limbs, all over white, and hoary was his visage;

Weeping in dismal howlings before the stern Americans,        215

Hiding the Demon red with clouds and cold mists from the earth;

Till Angels and weak men twelve years should govern o’er the strong;

And then their end should come, when France receiv’d the Demon’s light.

Stiff shudderings shook the heav’nly thrones! France, Spain, and Italy

In terror view’d the bands of Albion, and the ancient Guardians,        220

Fainting upon the elements, smitten with their own plagues!

They slow advance to shut the five gates of their law-built Heaven,

Fillèd with blasting fancies and with mildews of despair,

With fierce disease and lust, unable to stem the fires of Orc.

But the five gates were consum’d, and their bolts and hinges melted;        225

And the fierce flames burnt round the heavens, and round the abodes of men.


(Taken from: Blake, William. The Poetical Works of William Blake, ed. by John Sampson. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1908; Bartleby.com, 2011. www.bartleby.com/235/[poemnumber].html#[linenumber])


Plate 1, America: A Prophecy


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