William Blake was, to put it mildly, unique among the Romantic poets*. Like his visionary works of poetry, prose, and art, his method of publication was also unusual. Blake worked most of his life as an engraver, and was intimately involved in the modern publication methods of the day. He would reuse plates from previous work - those from his customers - to engrave his own works for publication. Indeed, he would print and bind his own editions and sometimes hand color the illustrations he included alongside his writing.

America: A Prophecy was written in 1793, the same year it was engraved and published. An opponent of England's mistreatment of the American colonies - and the tyranny of empires in general, as seen even in his first published work Poetical Sketches - Blake weaves this theme in amongst the visions he had. This work is one of the central pieces that codifies Blake's mythology**. In it we see the fundamental conflict between Urizen and Orc, Order versus Chaos (greatly simplified).

The story told is loosely based on the American Revolution - a major world event at the time of its writing. In it we witness the throwing off of British rule by the American colonials, led chiefly by George Washington. The two stories - American revolution and the conflict of Order versus Chaos - mirror each other throughout, with Orc beginning the story chained down and controlled. Yet he finds the way to freedom from his chains and returns to Earth to spread his "firey joy" to the people of America, as the colonials find their way to freedom from the British Crown. Urizen, representative of restraint and order (again, greatly simplified), tries to stop Orc's return first by confronting him directly, then by trying to help the British troops put down the rebellion against them by the colonials.

America: A Prophecy is one of Blake's most beautiful works. The prose-like writing leads to easier reading than some of his earlier works, and the sheer command of the English language that he displays is breathtaking. The images he conjures of Orc, Urizen, and their awesome powers are equally stunning.


* To call Blake a "Romantic poet" can be a bit misleading; he was no friend to the likes of Wordsworth or Coleridge and was, in fact, mostly derided as an insane man by his contemporaries. However, the term does serve to locate him within the timeline of human literary history. Some of his themes also happen to correspond to those of the other Romantics, however coincidentally.

** The other works that serve to define Blake's mythology are: Europe: A Prophecy, The Book of Urizen, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Visions of the Daughters of Albion.


Preludium

The shadowy Daughter of Urthona stood before red Orc,
When fourteen suns had faintly journey'd o'er his dark abode:
His food she brought in iron baskets, his drink in cups of iron.
Crown'd with a helmet & dark hair the nameless Female stood;
A quiver with its burning stores, a bow like that of night,
When pestilence is shot from heaven -- no other arms she need!
Invulnerable tho' naked, save where clouds roll round her loins
Their awful folds in the dark air: silent she stood as night;
For never from her iron tongue could voice or sound arise,
But dumb till that dread day when Orc assay'd his fierce embrace.

"Dark Virgin," said the hairy Youth, "thy father stern, abhorr'd,
Rivets my tenfold chains, while still on high my spirit soars;
Sometimes an eagle screaming in the sky, sometimes a lion
Stalking upon the mountains, & sometimes a whale, I lash
The raging fathomless abyss; anon a serpent folding
Around the pillars of Urthona, and round thy dark limbs
On the Canadian wilds I fold; feeble my spirit folds;
For chain'd beneath I rend these caverns: when thou bringest food
I howl my joy, and my red eyes seek to behold thy face
In vain! these clouds roll to & fro, & hide thee from my sight."

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 seiz'd the panting, struggling womb;
It joy'd: she put aside her clouds & smiled her first-born smile,
As when a black cloud shows 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!"


A Prophecy

The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent:
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore,
Piercing the souls of warlike men who rise in silent night.
Washington, Franklin, Paine & Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albion's fiery Prince.

Washington spoke: "Friends of America! look over the Atlantic sea;
A bended bow is lifted in Heaven, & a heavy iron chain
Descends, link by link, from Albion's cliffs across the sea, to bind
Brothers & sons of America; till our faces pale and yellow,
Heads depress'd, voices weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruis'd,
Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, and the furrows of the whip
Descend to generations, that in future times forget."

The strong voice ceas'd; for a terrible blast swept over the heaving sea:
The eastern cloud rent: on his cliffs stood Albion's wrathful Prince,
A dragon form, clashing his scales: at midnight he arose,
And flam'd red meteors round the land of Albion beneath;
His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders, and his glowing eyes
Appear to the Americans upon the cloudy night.

Solemn heave the Atlantic waves between the gloomy nations,
Swelling, belching from its deeps red clouds & raging fires.
Albion is sick! America faints! Enrag'd the Zenith grew.
As human blood shooting its veins all round the orbed heaven,
Red rose the clouds from the Atlantic in vast wheels of blood,
And in the red clouds rose a Wonder o'er the Atlantic sea,
Intense! naked! a Human fire, fierce glowing, as the wedge
Of iron heated in the furnace; his terrible limbs were fire,
With myriads of cloudy terrors, banners dark & towers
Surrounded: heat but not light went thro' the murky atmosphere.

The King of England looking westward trembles at the vision.

Albion's Angel stood beside the Stone of Night, and saw
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, & 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
With beams of blood; & thus a voice came forth, and shook the temple:

"The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk and dry'd
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing, awakening,
Spring like redeemed 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 & laugh in the bright air,
Let the enchained soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
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, & believe it is a dream,
Singing: 'The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning,
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & 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 & war, reply'd: "Art thou not Orc, who serpent-form'd
Stands at the gate of Enitharmon to devour her children?
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 answer'd: "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 desert sands, & consume in bottomless deeps,
To make the deserts blossom, & 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;
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, & his breast and head like gold."

"Sound! sound! my loud war-trumpets, & alarm my Thirteen Angels!
Loud howls the Eternal Wolf! the Eternal Lion lashes his tail!
America is dark'ned; and my punishing Demons, terrified,
Crouch howling before their caverns deep, like skins dry'd in the wind.
They cannot smite the wheat, nor quench the fatness of the earth;
They cannot smite with sorrows, nor subdue the plough and spade;
They cannot wall the city, nor moat round the castle of princes;
They cannot bring the stubbed oak to overgrow the hills;
For terrible men stand on the shores, & in their robes I see
Children take shelter from the lightnings: there stands Washington,
And Paine, and Warren, with their foreheads rear'd toward the east
But clouds obscure my aged sight. A vision from afar!
Sound! sound! my loud war-trumpets, & alarm my Thirteen Angels!
Ah, vision from afar! Ah, rebel form that rent the ancient
Heavens! Eternal Viper self-renew'd, rolling in clouds,
I see thee in thick clouds and darkness on America's shore,
Writhing in pangs of abhorred birth; red flames the crest rebellious
And eyes of death; the harlot womb, oft opened in vain,
Heaves in enormous circles: now the times are return'd upon thee,
Devourer of thy parent, now thy unutterable torment renews.
Sound! sound! my loud war-trumpets, & alarm my Thirteen Angels!
Ah, terrible birth! a young one bursting! Where is the weeping mouth,
And where the mother's milk? Instead, those ever-hissing jaws
And parched lips drop with fresh gore: now roll thou in the clouds;
Thy mother lays her length outstretch'd upon the shore beneath.
Sound! sound! my loud war-trumpets, & alarm my Thirteen Angels!
Loud howls the Eternal Wolf! the Eternal Lion lashes his tail!"

Thus wept the Angel voice, & as he wept, the terrible blasts
Of trumpets blew a loud alarm across the Atlantic deep.
No trumpets answer; no reply of clarions or of fifes:
Silent the Colonies remain and refuse the loud alarm.

On those vast shady hills between America & Albion's shore,
Now barr'd out by the Atlantic sea, call'd Atlantean hills,
Because from their bright summits you may pass to the Golden World,
An ancient palace, archetype of mighty Emperies,
Rears its immortal pinnacles, built in the forest of God
By Ariston, the King of Beauty, for his stolen bride.

Here on their magic seats the Thirteen Angels sat perturb'd,
For clouds from the Atlantic hover o'er the solemn roof.

Fiery the Angels rose, & as they rose deep thunder roll'd
Around their shores, indignant burning with the fires of Orc;
And Boston's Angel cried aloud as they flew thro' the dark night.

He cried: "Why trembles honesty; and, like a murderer,
Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station?
Must the generous tremble, & leave his joy to the idle, to the pestilence
That mock him? Who commanded this? What God? What Angel?
To keep the gen'rous from experience till the ungenerous
Are unrestrain'd performers of the energies of nature;
Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science
That men get rich by; & the sandy desert is giv'n to the strong?
What God is he writes laws of peace, & clothes him in a tempest?
What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs?
What crawling villain preaches abstinence & wraps himself
In fat of lambs? No more I follow, no more obedience pay!"

So cried he, rending off his robe & throwing down his sceptre
In sight of Albion's Guardian; and all the Thirteen Angels
Rent off their robes to the hungry wind, & threw their golden sceptres
Down on the land of America; indignant they descended

Headlong from out their heav'nly heights, descending swift as fires
Over the land; naked & flaming are their lineaments seen
In the deep gloom; by Washington & Paine & Warren they stood;
And the flame folded, roaring fierce within the pitchy night,
Before the Demon red, who burnt towards America,
In black smoke, thunders, and loud winds, rejoicing in its terror,
Breaking in smoky wreaths from the wild deep, & gath'ring thick
In flames as of a furnace on the land from North to South,
What time the Thirteen Governors, that England sent, convene
In Bernard's house. The flames cover'd the land; they rouse; they cry;
Shaking their mental chains, they rush in fury to the sea
To quench their anguish; at the feet of Washington down fall'n
They grovel on the sand and writhing lie, while all
The British soldiers thro' the Thirteen States sent up a howl
Of anguish, threw their swords & muskets to the earth, & ran
From their encampments and dark castles, seeking where to hide
From the grim flames, and from the visions of Orc, in sight
Of Albion's Angel; who, enrag'd, his secret clouds open'd
From North to South, and burnt outstretch'd on wings of wrath, cov'ring
The eastern sky, spreading his awful wings across the heavens.
Beneath him roll'd his num'rous hosts, all Albion's Angels camp'd
Darken'd the Atlantic mountains; & their trumpets shook the valleys,
Arm'd with diseases of the earth to cast upon the Abyss
Their numbers forty millions, must'ring in the eastern sky.

In the flames stood & view'd the armies drawn out in the sky,
Washington, Franklin, Paine & Warren, Allen, Gates, & Lee,
And heard the voice of Albion's Angel give the thunderous command;
His plagues, obedient to his voice, flew forth out of their clouds,
Falling upon America, as a storm to cut them off,
As a blight cuts the tender corn when it begins to appear.
Dark is the heaven above, & cold & hard the earth beneath:
And, as a plague-wind, fill'd with insects, cuts off man & beast,
And, as a sea o'erwhelms a land in the day of an earthquake,
Fury, rage, madness, in a wind swept through America;
And the red flames of Orc, that folded roaring, fierce, around
The angry shores; and the fierce rushing of th' inhabitants together!
The citizens of New York close their books & lock their chests;
The mariners of Boston drop their anchors and unlade;
The scribe of Pennsylvania casts his pen upon the earth;
The builder of Virginia throws his hammer down in fear.

Then had America been lost, o'erwhelm'd by the Atlantic,
And Earth had lost another portion of the Infinite;
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:
The millions sent up a howl of anguish and threw off their hammer'd mail,
And cast their swords & spears to earth, & stood, a naked multitude:
Albion's Guardian writhed in torment on the eastern sky,
Pale, quiv'ring toward the brain his glimmering eyes, teeth chattering,
Howling & shuddering, his legs quivering, convuls'd each muscle & sinew:
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.
They, spotted with plagues, forsook the frontiers; and their banners, sear'd
With fires of hell, deform their ancient Heavens with shame & woe.
Hid in his caves the Bard of Albion felt the enormous plagues,
And a cowl of flesh grew o'er his head, & scales on his back & ribs;
And, rough with black scales, all his Angels fright their ancient heavens.
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,
Run from their fetters; reddening, & 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
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
Around the smitten bands, clothed in tears & trembling, shudd'ring, cold.
His stored snows he poured 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,
Hiding the Demon red with clouds & 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, & Italy
In terror view'd the bands of Albion, and the ancient Guardians,
Fainting upon the elements, smitten with their own plagues!
They slow advance to shut the five gates of their law-built Heaven,
Filled 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, & their bolts and hinges melted;
And the fierce flames burnt round the heavens, & round the abodes of men.


Finis
(Cancelled Plates)

The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent:
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore,
Piercing the souls of warlike men who rise in silent night.
Washington, Hancock, Paine & Warren, Gates, Franklin & Green
Meet on the coast glowing with the blood from Albion's fiery Prince.
Washington spoke: "Friends of America! look over the Atlantic sea;
A bended bow in heaven is lifted, & a heavy iron chain
Descends, link by link, from Albion's cliffs across the sea to bind
Brothers & sons of America till our faces pale and yellow,
Heads depressed, voices, weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruised,
Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, & the furrows of the whip
Descend to generations that in future times forget"
The strong voice ceas'd, for a terrible blast swept over the heaving sea:
The eastern cloud rent: on his cliffs stoof Albion's fiery Prince,
A dragon form, clashin his scales: at midnight he arose,
And flam'd fierce meteors round the band of Albion beneath;
His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders, & his glowing eyes
Reveal the dragon thro' the human; coursing swift as fire
To the close hall of counsel, where his Angel form renews.
In a sweet vale shelter'd with cedars, that eternal stretch
Their unmov'd branches, stood the hall, built when the moon shot forth,
In that dread night when Urizen call'd the stars round his feet;
Then burst the center from its orb, and found a place beneath;
And Earth conglob'd, in narrow room, rolled round its sulphur Sun.
To this deep valley situated by the flowing Thames,
Where George the third holds council & his Lords & Commons meet,
Shut out from mortal sight the Angel came; the vale was dark
With clounds of smoke from the Atlantic, that in volumes rolled
Between the mountains; dismal visions mope around the house
On chairs of iron, canopied with mystic ornaments
Of life by magic power condens'd; infernal forms art-bound
The council sat; all rose before the aged apparition,
His snowy beard that streams like lambent flames down his wide breast
Wetting with tears, & his white garments case a wintry light.
Then as arm'd clouds arise terrific round the norther drum,
The world is silent at the flapping of the folding banners.
So still terrors rent the house, as when the solemn globe
Launch'd to the unknown shore, while Sotha held the northern helm,
Till to that void it came & fell; so the dark house was rent.
The valley mov'd beneath; its shining pillars split in twain,
And its roods crack across down falling on th' Angelic seats.

Then Albion's Angel rose resolv'd to the cove of armory;
His shield that bound twelve demons & their cities in its orb
He took down from its trembling pillar; from its cavern deep,
His helm was brought by London's Guardian, & his thirsty spear
Bu the wise spirit of London's river; silent stood the King breathing damp mists,
And on his aged limbs they clasp'd the armor of terrible gold.
Infinite London's awful spires cast a dreadful cold
Even on rational things beneath and from the palace walls
Around Saint James's, chill & heavy, even to the city gate.
On the vast stone whose name is Truth he stood, his cloudy shield
Smote with his scepter, the scale bound orb loud howl'd; the pillar
Trembling sunk, an earthquake rolled along the mossy pile.
In glitt'ring armor, swift as winds, intelligent as clouds
Four winged heralds mount the furious blasts & blow their trumps;
Gold, silver, brass & iron clangors clamoring rend the shores.
Like white clouds rising from the deeps his fifty-two armies
From the four cliffs of Albion rise, mustering around their Prince;
Angels of cities and of parishes and villages and families,
In armor as the nerves of wisdom, each his station holds.
In opposition dire, a warlike cloud, the myriads stood
In the red air before the Demon seen even by mortal men,
Who call it Fancy, or shut the gates of sense, or in their chambers
Sleep like the dead. But like a constellation ris'n and blazing
Over the rugged ocean, so the Angels of Albion hung
Over the frowning shadow like an aged King in arms of gold,
Who wept over a den, in which his only son outstretch'd
By rebels' hands was slain; his white beard wav'd in the wild wind.
On mountains & cliffs of snow the awful apparition hover'd.
And like the voices of religious dead heard in the mountains
When holy zeal scents the sweet valleys of ripe virgin bliss,
Such was the hollow voice that o'er America lamented.



References:
Christopher Moore (Editor). William Blake: Selected Poems. Avenel, New Jersey: Gramercy Books, 1995
William Blake - Biography and Works. The Literature Network. 05/21/2003. http://www.online-literature.com/blake/
William Blake. The Academy of American Poets. 05/22/2003. http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?45442B7C000C07040E

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