After reading the paragraph of Milton’s proclamation on p.162, the repetition of the phrase “I will go down” in lines 20 and 21 reminded me of the classic Christian spiritual “Down to the River to Pray,” and I have included a version sung by Alison Krauss in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou.

Although the connection between Milton and slave spirituals may seem tenuous at the onset, these works both consider self-annihilation as a means to reaching the divine. When Milton states, “I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!/ I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death,” he recognizes the need to sacrifice his current life in order to avoid remaining imbued with Satan, being “that Evil One!” (20-21, 30). The image of the sepulcher reinforces this idea that death (and all its physical pain and suffering) must precede oneness with God, a state that can only be achieved by the destruction of autonomic reasoning.

In the spiritual, the singer encourages others to accompany her to the river to pray, which is a reference to baptism, and this sacrament can be seen in the accompanying video. Though Christian doctrine believes Christ to have been the ultimate atonement for sin (a tenet with which Blake disagrees), the rite of baptism literally mimics the act of being reborn as a Christian, and one can not possibly be reborn if one has not already died. Even the most mainstream sects of Christianity preach one must sacrifice autonomy in order to be receive in the Kingdom of Heaven, so although this song lacks the intense corporeality of Blake’s images and prose in Milton, the underlying belief in the necessity of self-annihilation drives both.

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