Category: The Last Judgment (11/6-11/13)

Contraries and Negations

For next Wednesday, students will answer the following question prompt:

In book 2, plate 48-49, lns. 35-39, 1-15 (p. 202-203), does Ololon’s recognition of herself and Milton as “Contraries” result in her self-annihilation? If so, explain how her self-annihilation is similar to or different from Milton’s.

Categorize under “The Last Judgment” and don’t forget to create tags.


A clue to help you with this prompt:

I’ve included the plate illustration to the first page of book two of Blake’s Milton.  To recap on our class discussion, the reverse writing of the motto (“Contraries are Positives. A Negation is not a Contrary”) suggests that contraries generate more contraries (the contrary of the contrary that encourages imaginative re-vision) or, perhaps, the mirroring of contraries is a negation (the fearful symmetry that forestalls imaginative progression).  You decide this either/or!

Remember Blake’s other motto from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Without Contraries is no progression” (p.69).

blake milton

Milton and Satan, tragic heroes

In considering how Milton in William Blake’s Milton a Poem is like or unlike Satan, I first contemplate how to define the Satan figure that we are discussing. My first assumption is to compare Milton to his own Satan in Paradise Lost, but I quickly question this narrow interpretation. In my mind, there are at least three potential Satans to compare Milton to, a Christian Satan and some Blakian Satan. I will deal with this final version of Satan separately. Both Milton’s Satan and Satan in Christianity are fallen angels and thus I find the character of Milton in that he returns to Earth from Heaven. I also found Blake’s characterization of Milton similar to Milton’s characterization of Satan, detailed, confusing, and odd. Like Milton’s Satan, Blake’s Milton is complex and multidimensional. Milton is “synister” as he enters Blake through his left food, but simultaneously includes a redeemable qualities. Likewise, Milton’s Satan possesses humanizing characteristics that make him incredibly accessible to readers. I would argue that both are heroes of their respective works.  I am interested in exploring what a Blakian Satan would encompass. I find the Blakian Satan similar to the characters of Milton and Satan in that I imagine he would be equally complex. Moreover, all three have include contraries that exist simultaneously.

This post is in response to the question, “Why does Milton need to ‘go down to self-annihilation and eternal death’ (Plate 15, ln. 22; p. 162)?” In order to answer this question, I referenced the image on plate 15 in the Blake Archive. This particular image depicts Milton standing naked with what looks like his clothing torn in half in each of his hands. His head is surrounded by a halo of light, and the sun is depicted rising (or setting) behind him.

In order to decode this image in conjunction with the idea of Milton’s “self-annihilation and eternal death,” it is important to consider Blake’s views on Christ’s resurrection and the atonement. In the introduction to Milton a Poem, Blake refers to the death of Christ as “prey” to the “False Tongue… a curse, an offering, and an atonement” (lines 10-14, pg.148). Traditional Christian dogma posits that the atonement of Christ allows mankind to be forgiven of their sins and eventually have eternal life after physical death. Blake flips this idea on its head, claiming that in order to gain eternal life, mankind must first experience eternal death. This idea of contraries is a theme that runs throughout Blake’s works, and it is echoed through Milton’s need to experience eternal death before Judgment.

In addition, it is important to consider Blake’s beliefs about sin and its place in religion. In “The Bard’s Song,” Blake describes a scene in which Satan “created Seven deadly Sins drawing out his infernal scroll… To pervert the Divine voice in its entrance to the earth” (lines 21-23, pg. 156). This paints sin as a satanic creation meant to muddle the true meaning of religion, or the “Divine voice.” This falls in line with Blake’s theory of eternal death as necessary for salvation—in order to gain true “atonement,” we must cast off the concept of sin, and recognize its position as an antagonist to true religion.

This idea of casting off the idea of sin leads us back to the original image referenced in this post. In this image, it looks as if Milton has rent his clothing, exposing himself to the world. In the story of original sin in the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve realize that they are naked after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. They immediately cover themselves, feeling embarrassed. When Adam and Eve learn of sin, they feel the need to clothe themselves—on the flipside, when Milton frees himself from the concept of sin; he no longer feels the need to clothe himself and therefore tears off his clothing.


For next Wednesday (11/6), answer ONE of the two optional question prompts:

1. Why does Milton need to “go down to self-annihilation and eternal death” (Plate 15, ln. 22; p. 162)? hint: take a peak at the accompanying illustration/text images in the Blake Archive.


2. How is Milton like (or unlike) Satan?


Please categorize under “The Last Judgment” and don’t forget to create interesting tags.

Milton and Male Dominance

In book 2, plate 48-49, lns. 35-39, 1-15 (p. 202-203), does Ololon’s recognition of herself and Milton as “Contraries” result in her self-annihilation? If so, explain how her self-annihilation is similar to or different from Milton’s.

The Blake dictionary, of course, has a great section on Ololon that will help answer the question of whether or not she self-annihilates, and if she does, in fact, self-annihilate, how it will compare to that of Milton’s. According to the text, Milton A Poem is the only work of Blake’s in which she appears. This makes sense, because she unwittingly symbolizes the “truth underlying [Milton’s] errors about women.”

As we have been able to glean from the introduction and footnotes of our edition of Milton, the popular British poet had his fair share of difficulties with the ladies. The Blake dictionary describes Milton’s relationship with women thus:

“Milton had never discovered Ololon—had never really understood the other sex. His honeymoon difficulties with his first wife had inspired his great tome on divorce; he loved his second wife at least to the extent of a great sonnet; his third wife was merely a housekeeper. It is well known how his three daughters mistreated their great father” (307).

His three wives plus the three daughters are Milton’s “Sixfold Emanation”, emanation being to Blake the “feminine portion, or ‘counterpart,’ of the fundamentally bisexual male” according to the Blake dictionary. Milton’s emanation was lost in his poor relationships with the women closest to him throughout his corporeal existence. Milton is the story of his return to earth to reclaim his lost emanation in the annihilation of his unfulfilled mortal self.

But in a close reading of the text, we will find that Ololon, too, self-annihilates, though in a manner far different from Milton. She begins the final movement towards her moment of annihilation with a short lament over the lackluster self-annihilation undergone by Milton, citing his horrible treatment of women: “Is this our Feminine Portion, the Six-fold Miltonic Female?/ Terribly this Portion trembles before thee O awful Man” (30-31) Eventually, Ololon divides into six parts and flees into the depths of Milton’s Shadow. This is her annihilation, which curiously brings her to be a part of Milton, the very figure whose shortcomings she happens to incarnate.

Ultimately, Milton’s self-annihilation fails to change the errors of his corporeal existence in his return to Earth. Ololon, as the voice of feminine criticism, shows in her own self-annihilation the dominance Milton maintains over her. The flight into “Milton’s Shadow” is likened to “a Dove upon the stormy Sea”(pl. 49 ln. 6). Here, Blake demonstrates the spiritual turmoil in which Milton remains after his failed self-annihilation.

I’m not sure how to figure Ololon’s self-recognition as Milton’s contrary into my reading, so if anyone can help me, I’d appreciate the insight.

In response to haleyck’s post “Eternal Death and Sexuality,” I’d like to explore further the question of what implications self-annihilation has for the female sex. I would agree wholly with the statement, “The contrary of male and female, then, are not resolved in this one [hermaphroditic] body, but rather are both present, two opposites alongside one another.” Viewing the ultimate reconciliation of gender in this way, rather that arguing that male and female will cease to exist, preserves the contraries to which Blake is so dedicated while also moving beyond the traditional dichotomy between male and female. haleyck’s post succinctly describes this gender ideal of the New Jerusalem in its final line: “People will no longer limit themselves to either male or female.”

This resolution is affirmed in plate 48, lines 29-39 (p. 202) of “Milton: A Poem.” In these lines the virgin Ololon cries, “Is this our Feminine Portion, the Six-fold Miltonic Female? / Terribly this Portion trembles before thee O awful Man” (lines 30-31). Milton’s “emanation,” or his female part/his true self, cowers before the human (and thus the “shadow”) form of Milton. Ololon continues: “Altho’ our Human Power can sustain the severe contentions / Of Friendship, our Sexual cannot: but flies into the Ulro” (lines 32-33). Whatever human elements are present in an emanation – namely, the imagination – they cannot hold up to the male dominance asserted by the shadowy Milton in the context of a sexual union. And such a union is, according to Blake, the pinnacle of desire and the experience of the divine. After Ololon “flies” away, she asks, “Are we Contraries O Milton, Thou & I? / O Immortal! How were we led to War the Wars of Death?” (lines 35-36) Though Ololon is Milton’s emanation, she is nonetheless his female contrary, as well as his spiritual opposite. She and Milton must be enemies in the “Wars of Death,” in which they are pitted against each other and in which one must be annihilated. Of course, it is Milton who ultimately self-annihilates, and Ololon who is preserved. But what ramifications do these results have for the gender makeup of the New Jerusalem?

Ololon’s next query asks, “Is this the Void Outside of Existence, which if enterd into / Becomes a Womb?… / Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee” (lines 38-39). The “Void Outside of Existence” may be equated with “Eternal Death”: it is the place where one experiences “Eternal Life” (plate 48, line 21). In this sense life is the same as death because self-annihilation, which results in “Eternal Death,” allows for the type of “Eternal Life” Blake sees as resulting from sacrificial self-annihilation. Self-crucifixion is surely Eternal Death of the self, but it makes possible the Eternal Life that is eternity spent communicating with the divine via one’s imagination. This eternity is a “Womb” because it allows for endless creativity, imagination, and production – all of which originates in the female.

This idea of the eternal Womb makes a full circle back to the notion that Milton’s emanation is female and superior to Milton’s male half. Self-annihilation destroys Milton’s male presence in favor of preserving the female emanation. But that male part is not lost forever; rather, it then exists in Eternal Life as the necessary counterpart to the female Womb. For at the beginning of her dialogue, Ololon is described as a “Virgin” (plate 48, line 29). A virgin’s womb cannot reproduce unless it is united with its male counterpart. Thus Milton’s maleness, in the act of self-annihilation, is returned to its true form as part of the female emanation. Milton’s human form is a shadow of his true self because it has rejected its female part. Death to that self-consciousness, in favor of recognizing the importance of the other gender, allows for the ideal union of gender into one body. This is, of course, an unique eternal body that is closer to Blake’s conception of an emanation, though it is a hermaphroditic one in which male and female are perfectly in union and yet perfectly at odds – because each must retain their unique gender in order to be joined together as one: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (The Bible: New International Version, Genesis 2:24).

This post is responding to Blake Lively’s Milton, Selfhood and Communication with the Divine. Blake Lively raised a point that to annihilate oneself is to shift the focus of self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

This is what Blake the character did at the end of Milton. Milton annihilates himself, so does the Virgin Ololon. Thus, Milton became one of the Starry Eight who finally becomes Jesus and the Clouds of Ololon became the vesture dipped in blood written within and without. (“with one accord the Starry Eight became/One Man Jesus the Saviour, wonderful! Round his limbs/ The Clouds of Ololon folded as a Garment dipped in blood/ Written within & without in woven letters, p.203 lines 10-13). At this moment, the Last Judgment happens and Blake goes on describing the scene of the Last Judgment. Elements such as column of fire and trumpets appear.

When Jesus comes to Felpham’s Vale, Blake begins his own self-annihilation. “Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee” (p.202). This sentence highlights the spirit of self-annihilation: one must take the action himself because no one, no matter that’s Jesus or Milton, can do it for you. “I stood at that immortal sound/ My bones trembled. I fell outstretchd upon the path/ A moment, & my Soul returned into its mortal state/ To Resurrection & Judgment in the Vegetable Body” (Plate 49 lines 24-27, p.203). I read this as Blake returns to his body and the mortal state to start self-annihilation, which is the resurrection and judgment.

“is this the Death Couch of Albion?/ Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee”

This Comment is in response to kathcal’s “The Necessity of Going Down.” This comment serves to add more support in terms of textual evidence to her argument. The passage that was assigned is in sync with kathcal’s statements on the sacrifice of autonomy in order to obtain oneness with God.

Milton, in his opening statements of the passage refers to the sacrifice of autonomy: “This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal Spirit; a Selfhood which must be put off.” Milton wishes to cast off his self-hood in order to become one with God–only attained through self-annihilation. He wishes to, in essence, be the impetus for a greater movement towards self-annihilation, to  start a chain-reaction. He wishes to “to take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination.” In the passage he speaks to address a large scale of people that seem to shun his view of Imagination–he seeks to purify, to reveal.

It seems to Blake that the individual forms that we currently occupy–our self-hood–has made us quite…selfish (ha). He is calling for a global cleansing on the scale of the Last Judgment in order to bring about the New Jerusalem. Blake, through Milton, fears that the current generation is too corrupt and tainted–too concerned with false figures, rather than pure Imagination–to bring about the New Jerusalem: “These are the destroyers of Jerusalem, these are the murderers/ Of Jesus, who deny the Faith & mock at Eternal Life.” And connecting back to kathcal’s post, it ties closely with the spiritual calling others down to the river. His call for rebirth indeed mimics baptism–a “Regeneration.”

And Seven Angels Instruct Lucifer

And the seven Angels instruct Lucifer, the symbol of systematized reason.

In Milton A Poem, the reader really is introduced to the fullness of Blake’s poetic message of internal revolution.  “Book The Second’s” section 35/32 (on pg. 189-190) explains this message in the form of angels instructing Lucifer.  “We were angels of the Divine Presence…compelled to combine into Form by Satan….Both Divine Humanity & Mercy gave us a Human form” (Pg, 189).  Here, the angels, Blake’s speakers, are promoting the knowledge that what we are at the base of existence is divinity and mercy but that another form has layered itself upon this base.  Blake demands we get back to this base ceasing “Satan’s mathematic Holiness” (Pg, 189).

Blake presents Satan, or the identity manifested, as rationalizing itself holy and “calling the Human Imagination…madness & Blasphemy” (Pg, 189).  Blake wants to show the inherent trickery of the self, the fooling and strategies that keeps an identity in place.  By having strong opinions against or for something, the identity is continually pulling one left, right, or any direction within a systematized mind and in doing so, blocking the divine.  Blake is calling for a complete extinguishment of the identity in Milton A Poem and thinks Milton, who says to get rid of only certain aspects of the identity, did not go far enough.  “You cannot go to Eternal Death in that which can never Die” (Pg, 190), which, for Blake, means with any identity present, the miraculousness of Eternal Death and its divine nature will not be fully and consistently experienced.

This section in Book The Second (35/32) is Blake actually calling out to the reader demanding them to garner internal revolution.  “Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore: What is Eternal and what is Changeable? & what is Annihilable” (Pg, 190), Blake writes.  He wants each individual to explore within themselves, find whats created and changeable, and annihilate it in order to get to that Divine Presence that lies underneath Satan.  The imagination as human existence itself is the goal for every moment and any changeable identity that pops up must be dealt with as a system to disintegrate.  Because “whatever can be Created can Be be Annihilated; Forms cannot” (Pg, 190).  Forms exists as they are, as material facts of the material universe and energy and as such, one must dissolve the identity to become the experiencing of this material universe; this is Blake’s purpose for Milton A Poem, to describe this process. For Blake, this leads to an apparent peace and perfection permeating the world rather than the grimness of reality and will lead to Orc, or the material revolution in the society.  Whats interesting about this section in Milton A Poem is that Blake himself is really sermonizing his readers and instructing them on how to undergo internal revolution.  It is unusual for Blake to so overtly give specific direction, or promote a specific method making this section vital to understanding Blake’s work as in this section, he is as much teacher as poet.

The Frontispiece of Milton: A Poem

I wanted to take the opportunity to dwell a little further on the art of the frontispiece and speak about it in relation to self-annihilation. The most striking detail of this frontispiece is the split in the title that seems to display a broken name. Milton is deliberately pushing into the work causing a disturbance. The cover anticipates the theme of self-annihilation in the work that Milton desires to ultimately seek. Blake’s choice to split the title echoes the line in the work: “I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!/ I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death.” The splitting of his name in the frontispiece demonstrates his attempt to rip apart his identity–to annihilate himself. It appears that the name has been broken into two equal halves and I am assuming that in the second book, Milton after his cleansing annihilation in the “Eternal Death” will be reunited in “one wonderful body.”

I find it peculiar that Blake deems it necessary for Milton to sacrifice himself as Christ did. I cannot wait to see the result of the supreme self-sacrifice in the end of this poem. Until then, however, I wonder why the self-sacrifice is necessary–does Blake see it as the only way to break free from Urizen? Why must Milton be the figure to bring forth the New Jerusalem? I guess Blake must identify with Milton as an artist (pretty bold move) and sees his representation of Satan in Paradise Lost as containing an absurd amount of energy–embodying revolution and passion. Blake must see this rendition as sufficient as to choose Milton as he requires him to harness the energy from his creation and “claim the Hells, [his] Furnaces, [as he goes] to Eternal Death.” Thoughts on the subject?