Tag Archive: Genesis


Is Nudity the Way to Salvation?

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.

The Perpetual Fall

In locating his allegorical universe (at least temporarily) in Africa for The Song of Los, Blake’s goal is to emphasize beginnings: the beginning of humanity, the beginning of slavery, the beginning of religion, and the beginning of the empty moral systems and laws that he abhors. He not only makes Adam and Noah contemporaries but also adds Moses, Abram (Abraham), and figures of Eastern religion to the cast of characters. The first four, of course, are Biblical characters whose individual histories are told in the book of Genesis, which means “beginnings.” Adam’s story is that of the Fall, but Blake reminds us that simply because Noah lived many years after Adam does not mean that the two figures’ tales are unrelated.

For the Flood is the symbol of another quasi-Fall, in which nearly the entire world is destroyed because of its sinfulness. Given this event’s proximity to original Creation in the Bible, we should be struck by how quickly humanity incurred the wrath of God. There is salvation for the righteous Noah and his family, but the emergence of the curse of Ham quickly associates sin even with Noah and his descendants – and thus the entire human race. If we consider that, according to Genesis, we are all descended from Noah, then we can conclude that all sin stems not from Adam, but from Noah.

Certainly this line of thinking would have been exploited by supporters of slavery, who twisted Biblical accounts of Ham and Noah to justify the exploitation of Africans but conveniently neglected their faith’s declaration that all men are sinners, perhaps insisting that Noah’s other lines maintained righteousness. Blake’s point is to direct his readers to the discrepancies in this point of view and to remind us that, according to both Adams’s and Noah’s stories, every man is fallen and must rely on God for salvation.

For Blake is working on a both a micro- and a macro- level in this poem. He zooms in to Africa to demonstrate how misinterpretation of the Bible or of God has led to horrors and corruption there, but connects the events on that continent to those in other locations – in the “garden of Eden,” “the mountains of Ararat,” “in the East,” and so on (101). In other words, he argues, the Fall is universal: it has occurred and is occurring everywhere, regardless of one’s religion or race. Time is not relevant in the context of sin and its consequent exploitation, and thus time cannot be a factor for those of us, like Blake, who seek to bring about the revolution that will ultimately end those actions and systems that constitute such corruption.