The Prophetic Books of William Blake

The Prophetic Books of William Blake

The Prophetic Books of William Blake : Blake wrote his prophetic books just as the ideas and words came to him. He did not always go back the next day over what he had written the previous day. So the prophetic books are constantly in movement and changing: the surface is alive, the thought is never still, and the symbols are never quite the same.

The Prophetic Books of William Blake

These books, written night after night like a diary, are an endless commentary on his spiritual and physical life. They are the expressions not of a system or point of view but of a whole personality; and under their constant changes, the personality and the subject are always the same. The subject is the distortion of man by the rigid frame of law and society and the conventional systems; and the triumph is always the liberation of man by his own energies. The subject is war, tyranny, and poverty; the triumph is human freedom. Under all the obscure mythology, this is the single theme.

Ore Versus Urizen

The theme is expressed by Blake in two opposing characters. One is the jealous and fearful God of the Old Testament, oppressive in State and Church, whom Blake calls Urizen. The other is the perpetually young figure of Christ with the sword, overthrowing the established orders and bringing danger and liberty in his two hands. Blake first called this character Ore, and later divided him into two parts. One part is the male hero Los, who has to struggle with his own human failing as well as against Urizen. The other is Los’s more cautious female counterpart Enitharmon, whose womanly shrinkings and whose tenderness to the natural world must be mastered before humanity can fulfil itself. And if men and women do not fulfil themselves, if they shirk experience, they are dead in spirit. This is already the theme of the early work, The Book of Thel.

Blake’s Fear of the Industrial Revolution

These figures and beliefs in Blake grew out of his own experience. Los works at a forge and Enitharmon at a loom. They take their craft from the Industrial Revolution. Blake saw the Revolution around him, and he wrote about it and feared it. His own craft of engraving in the end was destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. To Blake, the world of his poems was not a retreat from, but an expansion of, his everyday world.

Their Chaotic Form

Blake’s Prophetic Books are great mythological compositions. They are chaotic as regards their form, but they contain magnificent passages which may be enjoyed in isolation. Their most remarkable feature, however, is the dynamic symbolism of the myth, whose transformations and revolutions express profound psychological truths. Blake was not struggling to analyse his own psychology in these works, but the inner condition of the English nation. He was dealing with a national mentality threatened by a domination of the scientific philosophy. He saw with an astonishing insight the injurious effects of this rationalism upon the life of the soul. He employed myth as the appropriate language for such material.

Blake’s Mythology

It is amazing that Blake should have created, at the turn of the 18th century, a pantheon so rich, varied, and complex, from his own visionary imagination. He created some dozen gods and goddesses, defined their potencies, and set the whole pantheon in motion. He set forth the whole subtle relation and inter-relation of these imaginative forces, these impulses that determine and control human life from beyond the little world known to human reason.

The Poetry of Myth

The Prophetic Books are not to be read merely as exercises in the use of language. They must be read as myth. As such they are among the greatest poetry in any modern language, and stand beside the works of Dante, Spenser, Milton, or James Joyce. The art of reading myth, as myth, must be re-learned if we are fully to understand such figures as Shakespeare’s Caliban, Ariel or Lear, Joyce’s Anna Livia, or Blake’s Four Zoas. But that taste once formed, we come to look in poetry for the gods and their symbols. And if we do not find them, the finest verse seems insipid, as if lacking a necessary dimension.

Creator of Symbols

This also explains why Blake worked with equal facility in two media (poetry and painting or engraving). The poetic process in which he excelled was neither verbal nor visual. It was symbolic and mythological. He was a creator not of pictures, not of verbal rhetoric, but of symbols, whose potency does not depend solely on the medium through which they are expressed.

The Meaning of “Prophetic”

Strictly speaking Blake’s only prophetic books are America and Europe, each of which is subtitled “A Prophecy”. But the term is often used for his long symbolic poems in general. They are not prophecies because they prophesy the future, but because they reveal what Blake believed to be eternal truths.

The “Songs of Innocence” are an essential step in understanding Blake’s more difficult prophetic books. They are not necessarily a part of the same development, as Blake did not keep to a rigid system of symbols and thought throughout his life. But they illustrate the essential workings of his mind which remained constant however expressed.


The Book of Thel was the first of Blake’s prophetic books. It is also the simplest of them. It is the story of a human soul in a state of Innocence recoiling from the problems of experience, and its theme is thus related to that of the Songs of Innocence. Thel, whose name is derived from a Greek word meaning “will” or “wish”, symbolizes the unborn soul. She laments the transitoriness of Innocence, while attempts to reassure her are made by a Lily of the Valley, a Cloud, a Worm, and “the matron clay”. This last sings of the joy of motherhood and invites Thel to enter a house in the world of experience: “…fear nothing, enter with thy virgin feet”. Thel does as she is bidden, and wanders through dark valleys until she discovers that she is seated beside her own grave. She starts, and, with a shriek, rushes back to her spiritual world. The book opens with Thel’s motto:

Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can wisdom be put in a silver rod?
Or love in a golden bowl?

It is a typical Blake verse, which opens with a couplet expressing the need of learning by experience, and closes with two cryptic questions. These, however, present less difficulty when we realize that the silver rod symbolizes love, the golden bowl the brain or wisdom. The verse asks whether the eagle or mole knows best what is in the pit. Despite its mighty strength and soaring flight, the magnificent eagle’s experience is limited and different from that of the little burrowing mole. Likewise wisdom is best dealt with by the brain, and love by feeling. In this way Thel’s experience is summed up—in her case. Innocence is best understood by innocence, Experience by experience.


The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (written, unlike any of his other illuminated books, almost wholly in prose) was partly a parody of Swedenborgianism. One of the main foundations of Blake’s philosophy is the reversal of conventional ideas. In order to understand the teachings, you must overturn them. Blake held that materialistic logic is the hidden force of Heaven—the conventional good, the Orthodox God—which forces man into a mould, restrains his instincts by rules, and limits his spirit by measurement.

On the other hand, energy and inspiration are the forces of Satan—what the conventional call Hell or evil—which free man’s instincts from rules and measurement. It is only in such freedom that man’s spirit can soar to its greatest heights, and unite body and soul to achieve human genius. Blake urges man to allow his spirit to soar as high as it can: “No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.” He will fall only if, like Icarus, he uses borrowed or artificial wings. Similarly Blake allows no room for prudery: “The nakedness of woman is the work of God,” and nakedness is therefore only thought wrong by the prude.

To Blake, as is clear from the Songs of Innocence, it symbolized innocence and here he reiterates it in different words. Moreover, the conventional priest, laying his curse on joys and insisting on asceticism, is no better than a caterpillar laying its eggs on the best leaves, which its progeny will devour. Even the wrath of the lion is divine, for it is the wisdom of God. All of this is worked up into the book’s final crescendo in the chorus of the Song of Liberty.

Again, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell we find Blake, as in The Book of Thel, insisting that the experience of one being is not necessarily the same as another’s; what, in short, is good for the lion may not be good for the ox.

By reversing the usual meanings of God, Heaven, Satan and Hell, Blake opened up wider vistas, claiming that each being should follow his nature.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a paradoxical statement of Blake’s creed. It does much to explain the symbolism of The Tiger and the main themes of the voluminous prophetic poems. The Bible and sacred codes have divided man into body and soul. The body has been associated with energy and evil; the soul suggests reason and goodness. He who follows his body (or the energy) will face eternal torment. But this view is evidently wrong. The body is not distinct from the soul.

The body, says Blake, is “a portion of Soul, discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.” Energy is the only life and is “eternal delight”. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. “The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man”. “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction”. “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires”. Blake’s doctrines show a faith in the spontaneous goodness of man, and are a sign of his naturalism. Blake denounces scientific and logical reason, and traditional ethics.

He condemns Newton, Locke, and Bacon who stand for the effort to confine cosmic and human energies within mechanical rules. In place of rationalistic and repressive creeds and codes, Blake exalts imagination, energy, love, as the divine inward guides. The poet is the only true man, and every man is a poet, or would be if his vitality and creative power had not been cramped or deadened by civilization, conventional religion, and science. Great rebels against artificial authority are Christ and Milton (though it is hard to see what Blake means by that).

This gospel is set forth in the huge prophetic books, in terms of a complex and occult mythology, and these poems are labyrinths that only scholars penetrate. Blake has been regarded by many learned expositors as a supreme poet and myth-maker and as more of a Christian than Christians. But the ordinary reader finds his symbolism in these poems to be baffling. Blake’s prophetic doctrine may be the great modern expression of a naturalistic, undiscriminating worship of “Life”. At any rate, though the power of his message is obscured by his esoteric manner, Blake appears among the Romantic poets like a force of nature among men writing with pen and ink.


The Gates of Paradise is a powerful book and is closely related to emblem books. Each of the plates is accompanied by an inscription. For instance one plate shows a little winged boy emerging from an egg-shell which he has broken; it carries the inscription: “At length for hatching ripe he breaks the shell”. The egg represents the closed materialistic world, the mundane shell. The figure has broken out of this into the outer and greater world of the imagination; it is a rebirth; therefore he is shown as a child, and it is a rebirth into a spiritual world; therefore he has wings. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Blake has shown very expressively the look of wonder on the child’s face as he breaks the shell. The work begins with a Prologue in which Blake says that Jehovah has written restrictive laws which imprison the imagination, but that He has repented and hidden them beneath his Seat of Mercy.  You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. If Jehovah has hidden them, why do Christians continue to insist on their observance? As the Epilogue points out, it is better to realize that even a harlot was once an unspotted virgin; that, that which is often adored as religion, is evil, and that, that which is often seen as Jesus and Jehovah, is really Satan.


Visions of the Daughters of Albion is a poem protesting against the rigid sexual morality of the time. The daughters of Albion are English women enslaved by conventional morality. Woven into the theme, too, are Blake’s protests against the evils of slavery, which in his view partook of the same quality as the repression of womanhood. He was partly inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women, which had been published in 1792, the year before the Visions appeared.

The story of the Visions is that of Oothoon, an innocent virgin, “the Soft Soul of America”, in love with Theotormon (Theo—”God”; and Tormon—”tormented”, or according to some, “law”). Theotormon is the divine in man, tormented by the false god, or restricted by the laws of the false god. Oothoon first hides in Leutha’s vale and then plucks Leutha’s flower (Leutha—awareness of sin or guilt; or sex ruled by law). But while flying to Theotormon she is raped by Bromion (Reason). Bromion afterwards throws Oothoon aside, boasting of his slaves, and treating her no better than if she were one.

Bromion and Oothoon are bound back to back in Bromion’s cave. Theotormon, following his orthodox way, sits in the entrance to the cave, weeping and refusing to marry the raped girl. She nevertheless justifies herself in the lamentations that follow, concluding like the Song of Liberty (in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) with the words: “everything that lives is holy”. The poem ends with these lines:

Thus every morning wails Oothoon; but Theotormon sits
Upon the margin’s ocean conversing with shadows dire.
The Daughters of Albion hear her woes, and echo back her sighs.

Blake also singles out, in this poem, the oppressiveness of orthodox religion. Like Oothoon and Bromion, bound back to back in their cave, the slaves and children “bought with money” shiver in their “religious caves” of cold ignorance, though the “burning fires of lust” burn above them. (The cave symbolizes the ignorance of the conventional mind). You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Again we are confronted with the comparison of the lots of the lion and the ox: “And is there not one law for both the lion and the ox?” asks Bromion. Thus Bromion, dominated by a philosophy which reduces everything to reason and measurement, can see only one side of any question. But Oothoon points out that one law for the lion and the ox is oppression. Later, in a beautiful passage, she sings of the joys of love in freedom (not, libertine love), which she contrasts with the miseries of repression. To this she adds a curse on Urizen (who symbolizes the limiting power of Reason).


In Visions of the Daughters of Albion, the political factor was only a part of the theme, but it dominates America: a Prophecy which is a poem dealing with American Independence. This poem opens with a Preludium in which Ore, “the terrible boy”, the spirit of earthly revolt, is shown chained to a rock—the Rock of Jealousy—beneath the Tree of Mystery (a symbol of spiritual death) while his parents—Los and Enitharmon—stand before him in horrified despair.

Los (probably an anagram of Sol: the Sun) is the spirit of poetry and of the creative imagination. Enitharmon is spiritual beauty.

Ore breaks his bonds and rises from the Rock of Jealousy. He embraces Nature, the shadowy daughter of Urthona, and the Spirit of Revolution is abroad. The Guardian Prince of Albion (George III) “burns in his nightly tent”.

In America, Washington speaks of the threat of oppression from England. Ore’s voice is heard, prophesying freedom. Albion’s Angel (England’s guardian spirit) challenges him, but Ore is not to be stopped. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. Here again Blake’s strictures on conventional religious thought are woven into the poem. Ore points out that man’s free and unbounded spirit was perverted by Urizen into ten commandments. Ore also reiterates that key belief of Blake’s “everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.”

Albion’s Angel then calls for his war-trumpets to be sounded to “alarm my thirteen angels” (the thirteen American States) and terrify them into submission. But it is unavailing. First Boston’s angel refuses to obey, and then he is joined by the other twelve. Albion’s Angel still fries to force them into submission, but fails. Finally, Albion’s Angel sends plagues and blights on America, but they only recoil on England. America gains her freedom.

Blake has again woven into the fabric of his revolutionary prophecy, the related idea of freedom from conventional morality, for in reality one is impossible without the other. The doors of marriage, the mystical marriage of Heaven and Hell, are open; the priests skulk in their “reptile coverts”; and Ore kindles the spirit of true love.

America is one of the most fiery of Blake’s works. The spiritual state that it describes is as far removed as could be imagined from that described in the Songs of Innocence; it is a State of Experience complete and unrelieved. Innocence does not give rise to the revolutionary fires of Ore; it is something beyond and outside them.


The theme of The Book of Urizen (issued also in 1794) is the creation, by Urizen, of the natural world and of man. The poem begins with a description of Urizen’s secret world, from which his dark tyrannical laws and measurements are proclaimed. Urizen, the “Dark Demon” is opposed by Los who, with terrific labour, binds him in human shape, until “ages on ages rolled over him”. But, “in terrors Los shrunk from his task” and “his eternal life/ like a dream was obliterated”. Pity began dividing his soul and, out of this, Enitharmon, the first female, was born:

Los saw the female and pitied;
He embraced her; she wept, she refused;
In perverse and cruel delight
She fled from his arms, yet he followed.
Eternity shuddered when they saw
Man begetting his likeness
On his own divided image.

From this union, Ore, the fiery spirit of revolution, who was later to oppose Urizen, was born. Los grows jealous of Ore’s affection for Enitharmon, and with Enitharmon, takes him to a mountain top and chains him by his limbs to a rock (the position in which we discover him at the commencement of America)

But Ore is not silenced:

The dead heard the voice of the child
And began to awake from sleep;
All things heard the voice of the child
And began to awake to life.

This can be read as revolt (Ore) being instinctively chained down by imagination (Los), although the voice of revolt still makes itself heard, even to the dead. But Urizen continues, in human shape, with his efforts to tyrannize through measurement and law, which he tries to enforce in the Garden of Eden.  You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. However, even his children cannot keep his laws, for which he curses them. He sees too, that life lived upon death— that is, animals are butchered to provide human food. But Urizen has not yet finished. He invents a web and calls it the “Net of Religion”. The children of Urizen degenerate: “in reptile forms shrinking together”. They are bound to the earth by the restrictive rules imposed upon them. At the end of the poem the remaining sons are called together by Fuzon (Fire) and they leave the earth, which they call Egypt (Slavery):

So Fuzon called all together
The remaining children of Urizen,
And they left the pendulous earth,
They called it Egypt, and left it.


Europe’, a Prophecy belongs to the same class as America, in that it is concerned with the mythology of the world intertwined with contemporary politics. But it is a much more difficult poem. In the chronology of Blake’s myth it precedes America, but follows The Song of Los. It is concerned with the period of the Christian era—about 1800 years—preceding the events related in America.

The Prophecy opens with the Nativity of Jesus in the shape of Ore (revolt). But orthodox Christianity falls into error, as Enitharmon (spiritual beauty; the female principle) is separated from her eternal partner, Los (the creative imagination; the male principle), and comes under the influence of Urizen (Reason) who has been “unloosed from chains”, adopting the doctrine that sex is Sin. Urthona (who is really Los) “takes his rest” and leaves Enitharmon in sole dominion. She descends into Ore’s red light (that is, revolts against woman’s traditional place as the passive partner) and calls upon her first and second sons, Rintrah (Wrath) and Palamabron (Pity), to proclaim “that Woman’s love is Sin”:

Go! tell the Human race that Woman’s love is Sin;
That an eternal life awaits the worms of sixty winters
In an allegorical abode where existence hath never come.

In this speech, Enitharmon makes the promise of the churches, that, in return for the loss of full sexual experience, the religions will be rewarded in heaven. But it is “an allegorical abode where existence hath never come.” You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Enitharmon then falls asleep for 1800 years, for the whole of the Christian era, upto Blake’s time, during which the repressive laws of Urizen, “One King, one God, one Law,” hold sway, while the flames of Ore, the lightnings of Palamabron, and the legions of Rintrah provide an apocalptic background to it all. Europe falls into the throes of revolution and its consequences. Finally Sir Isaac Newton, who represented to Blake, the antithesis of spiritual values blows a blast on the trumpet which completes the world of materialism. Enitharmon awakes and calls up four pairs of her children: Ethinthus (the purely physical aspect of love), Manathu-Varcyon

(her consort: soft delusion), Leutha (awareness of sin or guilt), Antamon (“prince of the pearly dew: the male seed), Oothoon and Theotormon (frustrated lovers), Sotha (war, violence), and Thiralatha (starved imagination). Finally she calls upon Ore to smile upon her children: You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. 

Smile, son of my afflictions.
Arise, O Ore, and give our mountains joy of thy red light.!

This signals the revolution in France.


The Book of Los re-tells the story of The Book of Urizen from Los’s point of view. It is also Blake’s version of Genesis, and ends with the creation of Adam, “a human illusion”. This creation results from Los’s efforts to escape from the power of Urizen and to take on shape and form. He creates light and the sun, binds Urizen to it, and forces him, too, to take on shape.

The significance of Los forcing a shape on Urizen may be stated as the forcing of definition on error in order to overcome it.

The Song of Los takes the story of mankind a stage further, from the birth of civilization, to the American Revolution. It also completes Blake’s cycle of the continents, as it is divided into two sections, “Africa” and “Asia”.

The four harps in its opening lines represent the four continents of Europe, America, Africa, and Asia:

I will sing you a song of Los, the Eternal Prophet:
He sung it to four harps at the tables of Eternity.

In heart-formed Africa.
Urizen faded! Ariston shuddered!
And thus the song began:

After the creation, the children of Los pass on Urizen’s false philosophy and religion to mankind. The imaginative arts (represented by Har and Heva) are driven away, until such time as Ore shall come and deliver the world from error, arising “like a pillar of fire above the Alps”.


The Book of Ahania is really a continuation of The Book of UrizenIt relates how Fuzon (Fire) relates against his father, Urizen, “moulding into a vast globe his wrath”, which he throws at him, “the cold loins of Urizen dividing”. His Emanation (the female counterpart, that is, of the bisexual male; broadly what Jungian psychologists call the Anima) is thus sundered, and Urizen names her Ahania (pleasure) and hides her, calling her “Sin”. Urizen smites Fuzon with a poisoned rock (the Decalogue) propelled from a bow of a serpent’s ribs (nature), and

On the accursed Tree of Mystery,
On the topmost stem of this Tree,
Urizen nailed Fuzon’s corpse.

For forty years the living corpse of Fuzon remains on the Tree while arrows of pestilence fly around it, though Los, who has forged iron nets, is able to trap some of them. The poem closes with a lament by Ahania. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

We may, indeed, wonder why Blake found it necessary to clothe his philosophy in such a difficult and complicated mythology. For one thing he was introducing a completely new aspect of the nature of man and creation, and no existing mythology or terminology could give him the necessary subtlety to express it. Moreover he answered the question himself when he made Los say, in Jerusalem: “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s”. He expressed himself in this way because he was Blake and no other.


Vala or The Four Zoas is Blake’s most complex poem. It is difficult to analyse and to understand. Yet it remains one of the greatest of poems in English. It is in the same class as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Spenser’s Faerie Queene, for like them, it seeks an all-embracing myth of man.

In form it consists of Nine Nights as described in its original title: “Vala or The Death and Judgment of the Ancient Man, a Dream of Nine Nights”. Blake later renamed it “The Four Zoas: The Torments of Love and Jealousy in The Death and Judgment of Albion The Ancient Man”. In Sir Geoffrey Keyne’s standard edition of Blake’s writings it occupies 119 pages. The manuscript is in the British Museum. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Blake tried in this poem to combine into one great work all of the myths he had already written. In the end he had to cast it aside, as it had become unwieldy, involved, and over-written. Blake found it more congenial to put his ideas into his later works: Milton and Jerusalem; in any case, those ideas had by then changed or been modified.

The plot concerns the warfare between the Four Mighty “Ones in every Man”, the Four Zoas and their Emanations. (The word Zoas, derived from Greek, means living creatures). The Zoas are (1) Urizen (Emanation: Ahania); (2) Los, thus named in the temporal world, who becomes Urthona in the eternal world (Emanation: Enitharmon) ; (3) Ore, thus named in the temporal world, who becomes Luvah in the eternal world (Emanation: Vala); and (4) Tharmas (Emanation: Enion). They have dozens of associations and meanings which change and multiply as the poem develops. Most of them have already figured in the prophetic books already dealt with, but the symbolic significances of the Zoas may be given here: Urizen: intellect (or, head). Urthona (Los): Intuition or Imagination. Luvah: Feeling or Heart. Tharmas: Sensation or Loins. They thus give us an indication of the poem’s content which is the struggle of the various functions of Albion (here representing mankind). The Emanations of the Zoas may thus be interpreted: Ahania: Eternal Delight. Enitharmon Spiritual Beauty. Vala: Nature, or Visible Beauty. Enion: Generative or Maternal Instinct.

Blake uses several other terms which also need explanation. All these are the parts of Albion that in the poem struggle for supremacy, with Los as Albion’s protagonist and Urizen as his main antagonist. In this way, Los is its hero, and Urizen its villain (if the word is not too strong). But Jesus appears as Albion’s saviour, and his antagonists are Rahab and Satan. (Rahab is “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots”, and the personification of the false church. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. 

The poem is enacted in a fourfold universe, the highest state of which is Eden (eternity), the lowest Ulro (the material world). Just below Eden is Beulah (the sub-conscious world of dreams and  inspiration),  and between  Beulah and  Ulro is the starry realm of Urizen (the world of restrictive law and measurement).

There are many threads and layers in the narrative of the poem, giving it a dream-like, illogical character without real continuity. Much of it is obscure and contradictory. Yet it is a triumph of the imagination and a poetic rendering of man’s own psyche, which itself is a mass of obscure and contradictory threads and layers. But quite apart from its meaning and theme there is much sublime poetry in it. The following lines may serve as an example. They are from a lament of Enion:

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song? Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No it is bought with the price Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy, And in the withered field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain.


Milton is one of the greatest of Blake’s prophetic books. It is concerned with the struggle between the true and false in art and in man. Blake becomes possessed with the spirit of Milton who in his life on earth allowed his poetry to be distorted by the dogmas of Puritanism. Blake’s long poem owes much to Paradise Lost, and its sub-title, “To justify the ways of God to man”, was taken from that work. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Milton is divided into a Preface and two books. The Preface opens with a dignified appeal in prose to the “young men of the new age” to set their faces against the imitative classical art of the Greeks and Romans. At the end of this prose passage Blake bursts into what is surely his most famous song popularly but erroneously known as Jerusalem:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

Blake means to say here that the Lamb of God was seen in England’s green and pleasant pastures because, in the days in which He appeared there, Ancient Man or Albion partook of the divine nature of Jesus; therefore Jesus walked in that green and pleasant land in the person of Albion. The “dark Satanic Mills” are not the commercial factories of the Industrial Revolution, but what the Buddhists call the Wheel of Existence, of what Blake himself called the Mundane Shell.  You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. By this Blake meant that materialistic existence into which, since those happier days, man’s spirit has fallen, to be ground, as in a mill and from which he cannot escape without building Jerusalem, or, in other words, without realizing once again the divinity in his nature.

The First Book of Milton opens with one of the finest passages to be found in the prophetic books, invoking the Daughters of Beulah, who may be equated with sexual fulfilment and inspiration. The poem continues by telling how Milton, “unhappy though in heaven”, decides to return to earih to correct the errors he committed during his previous existence there, where reason dominated him to the detriment of his emotional relationships with his wife and family. And he is moved in this by a Bard’s prophetic song which occupies much of the first book, in which Blake’s symbolic characters are the protagonists. It is a complicated and difficult passage, much of it being based on Blake’s relationship with Hayley at Felpham and being heavily veiled in allegorical language. And it also deals, as does The Four Zoas, with the larger view of the nature of man.

After the conclusion of the Bard’s song the poem becomes comparatively easier to follow. Milton descends to our world, accompanied by the Seven Angels of the Presence, passing through Beulah where he “beheld his own shadow/A mournful form double, hermaphroditic, male and female/In one wonderful body; and he entered into it/In direful pain.” He sees, too, the Ancient Man, “Albion upon the Rock of Ages”.

Milton’s spirit enters Blake by his left foot which symbolizes the material world in which Blake, as a mortal, was living; the right foot symbolizes the spiritual world. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. Blake is thus enabled to follow Milton’s earthly experience. Milton endeavours to move in the direction of the Universe of Los (poetry) and Enitharmon (inspiration), but Urizen (reason) opposes his path. Milton tries to make a philosophy but, in doing so, mistakenly uses only his reason.

Albion, the sleeping divine man, stirs under the influence of Milton’s descent, and through the image of a fly, we are again shown that “everything that lives is holy”. Man is also compared with the fly, and the hope is expressed that, like the fly, his gates of perception are not closed, that he will seek his heavenly father in human beauty and not “beyond the skies”. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Milton’s spirit, by entering Blake’s body, enables Blake to see and appreciate once again the beauties of the material world, which he sees on his left (material) foot “as a bright sandal formed immortal of precious stone and gold.” Milton acts as an inspiration to Blake, so that he becomes identified with Los, and walks “forward through Eternity”.

Los commands Albion to awake, and, cries to him that Ore’s blood and fire “glow on America’s shore”. Albion hears the sounds of war, and “the covering cherub advances from the east”. The “covering cherub”, a term taken from the Book of Ezekiel, is the Selfhood, the final error; in this case it is personified as Satan, Albion’s (and Milton’s) spectre.

Los shows Blake the descent of souls to the material world and their evolution in Bowlahoola and Allamanda. Bowlahoola is “the stomach in every individual man”; it is also the heart and lungs. Allamanda is the nervous system. These form a trio with Entuthon or the physical frame of generated man.

The Second Book of Milton opens with a description of Beulah. Milton’s Emanation, Ololon (the truth opposing his errors about woman), “a virgin of twelve years”, now descends into Beulah, “a place where contrarieties are equally true”. She descends to Los and Enitharmon, unseen beyond the Mundane Shell, southward in Milton’s track. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

In the meantime Milton discourses with the Seven Guardians or Angels of the Presence, in the course of which Blake explains his view of human state and individuals: Blake now fully perceives Milton’s errors and their manifestations. Milton himself throws off his spectre (Satan) who, however, still tries to possess him. But the Seven Guardians become a column of fire and call upon the divine man to awaken. Then Albion arises. Here Albion represents not only the Divine and Ancient Man, but also Britain itself. This introduces yet another thread into the already complicated story: that Britain’s soul and fate are identical with those of the Ancient Man, whose body fills the whole land—Wales, Ireland, England, and Scotland.

Ololon annihilates her selfhood and flees “into the depths of Milton’s shadow”. The poem moves to its resounding climax, with a Last Judgment. Blake falls into a momentary faint and awakes to find his wife beside him. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. The beauties of the countryside become apparent as the lark rises and the thyme tints the hills. Los and Enitharmon rise over the hills of Surrey and listen in anger to the cry of the poor in London. Oothoon, too, reappears “weeping over her human harvest”, and Rintrah and Palamabron view their harvest. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.


Blake’s greatest and last illuminated book was Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion. The theme of this work is man’s recovery of his lost soul. Man is represented by Albion, who is also a personification of England. Jerusalem is his Emanation (female counterpart) who, at the Fall, was divided from him; in the course of the poem they are reunited and Albion’s spirit is liberated.

The poem presents, too, in this symbolic form, Blake’s own spiritual, mental, and religions struggle and his final mastery. And there are actual autobiographical elements, for among the Sons of Albion are Scofield, Knox, and Hyle, who are none other than derivations of Blake’s Felpham accusers—Scholfield and Cock—and Hayley. Also featured are Quantock and Peachey, two of the magistrates at Blake’s trial. It is, apart from The Four Zoas, the most difficult of all Blake’s poems.

The work is divided into four chapters. The theme of the first chapter is a description of the fall of Albion into the “sleep of Ulro” (materialism); the other three chapters deal with his passage through eternal death and of the awaking to eternal life. Chapter II is addressed to the Jews, whose religion is that of the jealous God and the Moral Law. Chapter III is addressed to the Deists who substitute Nature for God, and keep the Moral Law. Chapter IV is addressed to the Christians who have a mature religion, but one encumbered with sex guilt and false chastity. At the end of the poem all errors are resolved and Albion recovers his perfect psychological and spiritual balance and true union with God.  You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake. The three religious groups addressed—Jews, Deists, and Christians—correspond to Blake’s three regions of childhood, manhood, and maturity respectively.

The preamble to Chapter II contains a beautiful poem of simple from which has much the same kind of appeal as the famous lyric from Milton (“And did those feet in ancient time”). It expresses mystical and symbolic ideas through familiar everyday scenes, a means of expression in which Blake was particularly adept. The first six lines of this lyric poem are an evocation of the age of Innocence when Jerusalem (spiritual freedom) was the common lot of man. The remaining verses evoke the age of Experience in which Jerusalem is usurped by Satan (error), though his victory is not permanent. You are reading The Prophetic Books of William Blake.

Chapter III is preceded by an introduction “To the Deists”, and a poem in which a monk is represented as an “image of his Lord”. He is killed by the forces of abstraction, which have divided moral law from forgiveness of sins. In this Chapter the Spectre (reason) proclaims, against a background of war, that he is God. But the eternals attempt to correct his Utterance by electing Seven “called the Seven Eyes of God”. Then begins the ploughing of nations. In other words, England ploughs the ground of the nations to receive the seeds of revolt which originated in English thought. Meanwhile, the Living Creatures (Zoas) cry against abstraction and indefiniteness:

General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer. For   Art   and   Science   cannot   exist   but   in   minutely   organized particulars.

And not in generalizing demonstrations of rational power.

Establishment   of  Truth   depends   on   destruction   of   Falsehood continually,

On circumcision, not on virginity, O Reasoners of Albion.

To Blake, circumcision represented the sacrifice of selfhood, virginity the repression of natural desires. In this Chapter, too, occur the following lines spoken by the Divine Voice:

Every Harlot was once a Virgin: every Criminal an
Infant Love. Repose on me till the morning of the Grave. I am thy life.

Chapter IV is largely concerned with the problem of chastity. Enitharmon (inspiration) separates herself from Los and develops her own will. Los’s love develops into desire. But Enitharmon, repulsing him, speaks in scorn, saying:

This is Woman’s world, nor need she any
Spectre to defend her from Man……. 

At this a sullen smile breaks from the Spectre in mockery, and he declares:

The Man who respects Woman shall be despised by Woman,
And deadly cunning and mean abjectness only shall enjoy them.
For I will make their places of joy and love excrementitious

But the triumph of the Spectre does not last. Though once the guardian of truth, he is now recognized as error.

England, who is Britannia, awakens from death on Albion’s bosom. Her lamentations awaken Albion, who arises. Jesus appears and Albion converses with him. Albion slays the Covering Cherub, the last enemy, and the poem ends with the establishment of Eternity.

The poem is so difficult as to be almost incomprehensible except to devoted scholars. The symbolism and character of the protagonists change with the events. Sometimes the poem is concerned with the soul and mind of man; sometimes it has political overtones, as when war rages and Luvah (whom some see as a representation of France) is crucified. All in all, the poem is man’s struggle with his nature, and the final resolution of that struggle.

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