Tag Archive: women

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.

Tears and Resurrections

The final line of “Asia” simply states, “Urizen Wept” (42). The associated footnote asserts the wording is ironic because of its parallelism to the biblical line, “Jesus wept,” from John 11:35 but fails to explain the reasoning behind this. Immediately preceding the end of “Asia,” Blake portrays the earth in revolution, a state combining the calling forth of the deceased with the liberation of passionate female sexuality. Whether Blake means for this image to be understood as the apocalypse is unclear, but he definitely pinpoints it as a moment in which there is a definite change–what the footnote calls “the resurrection of humanity.”

This word resurrection ties into Blake’s biblical allusion because the verse, “Jesus wept,” occurs before Jesus performs the miracle of raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. After hearing the deceased’s sisters Mary and Martha recount the story of his death, Jesus was emotionally troubled and moved to weep, and he subsequently gave life back to Lazarus. The details of this story provide an interesting comparison to that of Urizen in several ways. First, Jesus literally resurrects Lazarus, much like the end of “Asia” proclaims the bones of the dead will rise (“the shivring clay breathes” (32)), so these images question the uniqueness of earthly life. Second, both highlight the importance of women: Jesus is swayed by the pleadings of Mary and Martha, and Blake concludes “Asia” with a vivid image of a female orgasm, stating, “Her bosom swells with desire” (37). Finally, I feel the editors chose the word “ironic” to describe this allusion because whereas Jesus weeps from empathy with humanity and acts from this emotion, Urizen weeps because humanity and all its imaginary pleasures–the antithesis of his reason–is being resurrected, rendering him powerless to control the direction of the earth any longer.