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Friday Poem: William Blake


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Europe: A Prophecy, is the second prophecy of Blake’s illuminated books on satire, unorthodox politics and a looming apocalypse.

Living in a time of social and political turmoil, Blake turned to poetry to express his criticisms on cultural, political and social institutions which he believed to be dysfunctional and regressive. Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789) is an insight into Blake’s distaste of fixed institutions in which society is exposed to from childhood.

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A child’s “innocence” is not immune from oppressive institutions but is not actually understood until “experienced” in later life, where innocence is lost by social and political corruption. Blake’s criticisms of institutions intensify in his later works. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) is a protest against authoritarian religion. He believed religious traditions are despotic and morbid and suppress the soul, which should be liberated to self-govern.

Amidst his doom and gloom, Blake offered some ideas to reshape the future which he emphasises in living through the soul and the imagination, or, emotions and experience. Europe: A Prophecy (1794), is one of Blake’s prophetic poems told through his mythology, and which he engraved on to 18 plates. The poem considers a primitive past where society lives in paradise, experiencing the ‘sprits of life’ and ‘nourishing sweets of the earth,’ untampered by institutions. It tells the tale of Albion (the primitive man) who is subjected to the tyrannical rule of Christianity. As a result of his enslavement, an internal war between desires breaks out between Enitharmon (inspiration for the imagination) who is sleeping for eternity, and Urizen (reason, or God) who supresses her, ensuring she does not wake. During her sleep, Enitharmon’s son, Orc (revolution) is released under the pressure of Urizen and creates a ‘divide [in] the heavens of Europe’ by his violent energy.

The poem is political message about oppressive social, cultural and political institutions that attempt to repress society’s natural impulses of emotion and imagination, and that, there will be a time that society will naturally revolt against tyranny if society fails to change its course.

 Europe: A Prophecy

The deep of winter came,
What time the Secret Child
Descended through the orient gates of the Eternal day:
War ceas'd, and all the troops like shadows fled to their abodes.

Then Enitharmon saw her sons and daughters rise around;
Like pearly clouds they meet together in the crystal house;
And Los, possessor of the Moon, joy'd in the peaceful night,
Thus speaking, while his num'rous sons shook their bright fiery wings:

`Again the night is come,
That strong Urthona takes his rest;

And Urizen, unloos'd from chains,
Glows like a meteor in the distant North.
Stretch forth your hands and strike the elemental strings! Awake the thunders of the deep!

`The shrill winds wake,
Till all the sons of Urizen look out and envy Los.
Seize all the spirits of life, and bind
Their warbling joys to our loud strings!
Bind all the nourishing sweets of earth
To give us bliss, that we may drink the sparkling wine of Los! And let us laugh at war,
Despising toil and care,
Because the days and nights of joy in lucky hours renew.

`Arise, O Orc, from thy deep den!
First−born of Enitharmon, rise!
And we will crown thy head with garlands of the ruddy vine; For now thou art bound,
And I may see thee in the hour of bliss, my eldest−born.'

The horrent Demon rose, surrounded with red stars of fire, Whirling about in furious circles round the Immortal Fiend.

Then Enitharmon down descended into his red light,
And thus her voice rose to her children: the distant heavens reply:

`Now comes the night of Enitharmon's joy!
Who shall I call? Who shall I send,
That Woman, lovely Woman, may have dominion?
Arise, O Rintrah! thee I call, and Palamabron, thee!
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. Forbid all Joy; and, from her childhood, shall the little Female Spread nets in every secret path.

`My weary eyelids draw towards the evening; my bliss is yet but new.

`Arise! O Rintrah, eldest−born, second to none but Orc!
O lion Rintrah, raise thy fury from thy forests black!
Bring Palamabron, hornèd priest, skipping upon the mountains, And silent Elynittria, the silver−bowèd queen.
Rintrah, where hast thou hid thy bride?
Weeps she in desert shades?
Alas! my Rintrah, bring the lovely jealous Ocalythron.

`Arise, my son! bring all thy brethren, O thou King of Fire! Prince of the Sun! I see thee with thy innumerable race, Thick as the summer stars;
But each, ramping, his golden mane shakes,

And thine eyes rejoice because of strength, O Rintrah, furious King!'

Enitharmon slept
Eighteen hundred years. Man was a dream, The night of Nature and their harps unstrung! She slept in middle of her nightly song Eighteen hundred years, a Female dream.

Shadows of men in fleeting bands upon the winds
Divide the heavens of Europe;
Till Albion's Angel, smitten with his own plagues, fled with his bands. The cloud bears hard on Albion's shore,
Fill'd with immortal Demons of futurity:
In council gather the smitten Angels of Albion;
The cloud bears hard upon the council−house, down rushing
On the heads of Albion's Angels.

Read the rest of the poem here.

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