Tag Archive: Blake

In answering the question of what precisely happens to Ololon, how such fits in, relates, to the rest of Milton: A Poem, I feel, firstly, a few prefatory remarks—a naming of parts or clarifying of terms—is required. I take “self-annihilation,” as it manifests, in the scope of Blake’s poem at face value, that is, meaning precisely what it says: “making the self into nothing” (its root word nihil being the Latin for “nothing”). The crucial distinction, I submit, is in the nuanced fact that is a process rather different and apart from destruction per se, though we tend to think it synonymous with such. In a certain line of thinking—admittedly Eastern—and with a little mental acrobatics, nothing (i.e., the absence of something, an existential lack) can be thought of as the potential for all things, as, say, blandness might be conceived of as not the lack of flavor but the potential for any. This is how self-annihilation—achieved in the dialectical struggle between Spectre (self, convention, reason) and Emanation (other, imagination, energy)—can allow one to enter into the higher synthesis, or reconciliation, of Divine Humanity. All that said, while the revelatory scene in Blake’s garden in Felpham seems to enact such a self-annihilation for Milton, it seems it only brings about a self-abnegation for Ololon. The movement feels to be one of a patriarchal possessiveness rather than total reciprocity or a complete, mutual meeting-in-the-middle. It all seems to be done for the benefit of Milton; Ololon is only peripheral or utilitarian—a means to an end—subsumed into Milton rather than unified with him. Though these last points are more impressions, things felts, than empirically verifiable points in the text.

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.

A Complex Issue

I think without a doubt, we have all come to the conclusion that Blake is a confusing character. Thus, in attempting to understand Blake’s position in regard to the French Revolution, it is again a challenge. After reading from Paine, Burke, and Price, each author takes a firm position in regard to the revolution, like most. As we discussed in class Monday, not taking a firm position was virtually impossible, the “grey area” did not exist, but, somehow, Blake exists, at least partly, here. After reading works like The Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake places himself in a position to support either side, or neither side for that matter. Blake focuses on the individual and something as mob-like as the Revolution, stands outside that belief.

Holy Thursdays

Last week, I explored “Holy Thursday” from Songs of Innocence. In considering which two poems to examine as contraries, I immediately became interested in expanding my exploration of the original “Holy Thursday” by comparing it to its twin of the same name in Songs of Experience. The first difference I noted is the lack of a illustration associated with the “Holy Thursday” from Songs of Experience. I believe this is indicative of the fact that the children discussed in each version are one and the same. In Songs of Innocence, these children were singing to their benefactors. While I initially saw these children as another example, like that found in “The Lamb,” of joyful childhood innocence, upon further examination, I began to see the dark undertones associated with their performance. Instead of being ideal images of the lamb, these children are a herd of lambs blindly following their leaders, leaders who can teach falsehoods. Thus, Blake uses the second “Holy Thursday” to leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that these children are indicative of a much darker part of childhood, a childhood robbed of its innocence. In “Holy Thursday,” the reader is reintroduced to these children. Here, instead of participating in a lavish and false show, the children are living their everyday lives, lives that their benefactors hope to shield themselves from. Blake urges the benefactors and all of humanity to confront the ugly truth of the lives of these children in Songs of Innocence. In Songs of Experience, he forces them to confront the reality by conveying it through his poem.

One of the things I have loved the most about Blake in my first few days of encountering his work is the constant not only opportunity, but obligation he offers his readers for interpretation. Moreover, it is not enough for Blake to simply force you to consider and offer possible interpretations of his works; he is constantly pushing readers to reevaluate all that they have taken as truth before. While the idea of truths may not seem initially evident in this quotation, I think Blake allows ample space to navigate toward what I have found to be one of his greatest themes thus far. In the comparison between the deliverance of Israel and the deliverance of Art, the two become similarly enslaved by Egypt and Nature and Imitation respectively. The original sculpture that Blake then adds graffiti like writing to is considered by many to be a masterpiece. This piece pulls from a variety of Greek sources and, thus, can be said to originate little and simple be imitating that which Sophocles or Virgil have already written. Blake pushes those who encounter his piece to consider how nature and imitation can act as enslaving forces. When characterized in this manner, it is clear that Blake finds them to be problematic for creation, a thought that stands apart from many of his contemporaries in a revolutionary way. In Blake’s mode of thought, nature and imitation, two sources of artistic creation that have long been revered, are not sources for artistic creation. These types of “art” are mere recitations of that which has already been created, no true innovation has really occurred. In this way, Blake reminds me of Ovid. The two are similarly wary of the tools with which they have to work and the ever-present possibility to become an Echo. Ovid provides a means of defying this possibility, interestingly, through Echo herself. While she is forced to repeat the words of others, she finds a way to repeat them to say something new and communicate her message. Blake’s answer to this pitfall of creation is relying on one’s own imagination and the tremendous capabilities it has for innovation and genius outside of what already exists.

A Link between Taoism and Blaken Philosophy

Ka’s presentation was very interesting in its comparison of the work of William Blake to that of Laotse. I found it to be an incredibly interesting cultural amalgamation and it was striking that she detected a similitude between them that suggested a literary analog of each in the other. I was disheartened during her presentation when she said that little scholarly research, if at all, had really made this connection. It seemed like a novel concept but I thought such a point of comparison necessitated further study and it surprised me that the centuries that have passed since William Blake’s literary moment had not engaged in a dialogue surrounding this rather distinct point of similarity. Irving Babbitt, in his book Rousseau and Romanticism describes the new morality of the Romantic era and, to my great delight, also suggests a linkage between the themes of the Romantic genre with those of Taoism! Babbitt contends:


“A study of Buddha and Confucius suggests, as does a study of the great teachers of the Occident, that under its bewildering surface variety human experience falls after all into a few main categories. I myself am fond of distinguishing three levels on which man may experience life—the naturalistic, the humanistic, and the religious. Tested by its fruits Buddhism at its best confirms Christianity. Submitted to the same test Confucianism falls in with the teaching of Aristotle and in general with that of all those who from the Greeks down have proclaimed decorum and the law of measure. This is so obviously true that Confucius has been called the Aristotle of the East. Not only has the Far East had in Buddhism a great religious movement and in Confucianism a great humanistic movement, it has also had in early Taoism a movement in its attempts to work out naturalistic equivalents of humanistic or religious insight, offers almost startling analogies to the movement I am here studying” (xviii-xix)


Babbitt, though referencing the Romantic period writers more generally, hones in on central themes that Blake addresses in his works: namely the three levels of human experience. Herein lies the evidentiary support, or at least evidence of a shared supposition on the part of a scholar, that Ka lacked in her presentation. The fact that such a connection has been conjectured previously lends credence to her argument.

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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.

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.

In Visions of the Daughters of Albion, we learned that Blake takes similar stand with feminist at his time. However, Blake still stayed within a restricted feminism. His feministic arguments are more inclined to free women from the traditional moral cage rather than treating men and women equally. In Milton, Milton was freed by his “Sixfold Emanation”, his three wives and three daughters (p. 149). These six women symbolize Milton’s suppressed feminine desire and his spiritual form of self.

On one hand, women are powerless victims and forced to reluctantly reproduce. Oothoon reproduces Leutha’s trap to the girls while being a victim herself (p.64). The shadowy female in Europe a Prophecy is powerless and can only complain about the vicious reproduction she has to take on doing (p.98-99). Enitharmon, the character that suppress Orc and Los, put men into her eighteen hundred years of female dream (p.101). On the other hand, women are symbols of sexual liberation and free desire. Oothoon calls for “free love” constantly in Visions of the Daughters of Albion. In Moravian tradition, Jesus is feminine. In the image of Milton strangling Urizen, we also see his Sixfold Emanation above him. His Sixfold Emanation is artistic and joyful. These are all images that Blake truly praises.

Nevertheless, women are never the revolutionary in Blake’s work. They don’t strangle Urizen. They don’t bring revolution like Orc and Los. One can definitely argue that Blake portrays the oppressed situation of female to call for changes. But can we also argue that Blake never put female as revolutionary characters in the center of his system is being unconsciously patriarchal? In the New Jerusalem, what will the gender system be?

So the Angel said: “Thy phantasy has imposed upon me & thou oughtest to be ashamed”

In William Blake’s past there is a close relationship with the Moravian religion that seems to reveal itself, unsurprisingly, in his work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In the work, Blake chooses to depict a scene of utter grotesqueness that reveals to his companion, an angel, the truth of his own religion—that it is constructed on the bones of reason. Blake takes a satirical aim at the Moravian religion by depicting the rotting corpses—a fleshly representation of the Moravian church central to its teachings—as intolerable. He places his satire on an equal level as that of Swedenborgian teachings in his more blatant mockery of the writer’s “new truth” (“A Memorable Fancy” MoH&H. 22. 1; 79).  It seems that Blake is trying to communicate his distaste for Church teachings that have been institutionalized in his condescension of them—as evidenced by the tension between he, the angel, and the devil. Blake ultimately reveals through his satire that he wishes to not favor any particular school of thought, but instead he chooses to favor an altered perception beyond a limited scope created by systematized barriers of organized religion.