Milton’s proclamation that he must “go down to self annihilation and eternal death” is accompanied by the threat “Lest the Last Judgment come & find me unannihilate / And I be siez’d & giv’n into the hands of my own Selfhood” (Plate 15, lines 23-24). Self annihilation in this sense refers not to physical destruction but to the mental, emotional, and spiritual crucifixion of the self: the destruction of the old, entrenched ways of living in favor of the new. The overarching message of “Milton: A Poem” is Blake’s version of Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

“Losing one’s life” in the context of this verse and of “Milton” is to destroy the power of the self over the spiritual state in order to gain the power of God over one’s soul. Blake’s interpretation of the Fall posits that Man severed his relationship to God, in which the divine was in direct communication with the mortal, in favor of an entirely human-centered focus. Blake does not dismiss the power or importance of the human element of faith, but he does affirm his belief in the importance of looking to the divine as the focus of one’s life. Only opening one’s mind and spirit to the power and methods of the divine (this is, of course, encapsulated in Blake’s idea of the “poetic genius”) can free the soul from the bonds of human-constructed laws and systems that proscribe the inspiration and creation of the imagination. “Dying to self” is thus the tenet by which Blake would have every person live: he affirms a mortal life that is nonetheless centered on the divine and anticipates the ultimate communication with God throughout eternity.

The consequence of failing to “self-annihilate” is to be condemned to Hell at the Last Judgment, or the final coming of Christ. To Blake, Hell, or eternal suffering, is encapsulated in the idea of “Selfhood”: an almost independent entity that, when given full reign over a person’s consciousness, places him in a state of constant self-awareness. Given the dominance of moral law, specifically that of the all-powerful Church, over an individual’s conscience, self-awareness in this life leads to a constant examination and condemnation of one’s “sinful” motives. For Blake is focusing primarily on the differences between the moral state propounded by the Church and that which he believes is the one truly in line with Christ’s life on Earth and the power of the divine present in humanity. According to Blake, mortal systems for regulating the conduct of one’s life emphasize constant evaluation of the self and one’s actions in place of a God-centered faith in which the divine is expressed via human creation and art.

To Blake, a constant focus on one’s own self – one’s thoughts, actions, and motivations – allows self-centeredness to become the compass of an individual soul. Every thought and event is evaluated in relation to the self. Conversely, a God-centeredness opens the door for the type of artistic imagination and production of which Blake is a staunch proponent.