Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s America – A Prophecy. continuing from here
AG: Then, take a look at page 4, Plate 4. That’s an illustration of that ( “A dragon form clashing his scales at midnight he arose,/ And flam’d red meteors round the land of Albion beneath,/ His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders, and his glowing eyes”) -. The dragon form clashing his scales at midnight. Up there, on top, you’ll see, according to Damon, a basilisk; that’s what that little dragon is, with old horny hands – kind of a funny human face and old horny hands – “appear(ing) to the Americans upon a cloudy night”, (from that line above it).
So that’s his sort of monsterous form. But then he’s got to approach Parliament, so the King takes somewhat human form with a scepter, floating down on the left. See?
However, there’s the Leviathan, that big blunk on the seashore, and there’s the King, England’s King, again, down below, holding his head like that (with his hands on his head), seeing the Leviathan of Revolution approach him. And there’s a fallen oak tree on his right, by the way.
The basilisk is a king-killer, according to Kathleen Raine’s book. She says, “Has the falling aged figure of Urizen been killed by the glance of the basilisk (Orc?” – the basilisk). The “angel form” of the king “divides down the left margin, law book clutched behind his back..”- (see the law book there, behind his back) – “..scepter held in his left hand like a magic wand. He is preceded and followed by lightning” which is Blake’s trademark of wrath”. He’s “a beached sea monster” (“an orc or revolutionary whale,” according to Damon – these are all Damon’s amusements). A dragon form. Okay, so:
“Solemn heave the Atlantic waves between the gloomy nations,/Swelling, belching from its deeps red clouds & raging Fires!/ Albion is sick! America faints! enrag’d the Zenith grew./As human blood shooting its veins all around the orbed heaven” – (The eyeball, actually. Human blood shooting its veins all around the eyeball – “The Eye altering alters All.”
“Red rose the clouds from the Atlantic in vast wheels of blood/ And in the red clouds rose a Wonder o’er the Atlantic sea -/Intense! naked!…” – (This is Orc. Remember, he’s using the Devil’s language from“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, so the Angel was really the Devil, the Angel King, (the) Prince, was really the wrathful Devil, angry, trying to repress). And here is the birth of Volcanic Orc:
“…Intense! naked! a Human fire fierce glowing, as the wedge/Of iron heated in the furnace..” – (Orc’s father, as I said, was Los, the imagination – poetic imagination, and Los’s impertinences, as we’ll find out later on, his tools, are the forge and the bellows –“What the hammer? what he chain,/ In what furnace was thy brain?” – The tiger of wrath created by poetic imagination. Or Orc’s wrath – “What the hammer? what he chain,/In what furnace was thy brain?/What the anvil? what dread grasp,/Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”- So the symbolism pervades even the “Songs of Experience”. even the.. almost the things you took for granted, took this fury, are actually built into Blake’s total symbolic system.
So, “the wedge/Of iron heated in the furnace” is the revolution. Heated in the furnace of the mind and the emotions. – “… his terrible limbs were fire/With myriads of cloudy terrors banners dark & towers/Surrounded; heat but not light went thro’ the murky atmosphere.”
Okay, where is that coming from? (as the whole thing is coming)? – Milton’! – “Paradise Lost”, Book I, line 58: Down in hell.
“Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate./At once, as far as angels ken, he views/The dismal situation waste and wild:/A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,/As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames/No light, but rather darkness visible/Served only to discover sights of woe,/ Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace/ And rest can never dwell, hope never comes/That comes to all, but torture without end/ Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed/With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.”
That kind of rhetoric comes from Milton, Blake’s rhetoric, somewhat, comes from Milton, his style: “No light, but rather darkness visible”- “yet from those flames/No light, but rather darkness visible.” And we have in Blake’s “heat but not light went thro’; the murky atmosphere.”
Well, it’s not precisely, exact, one-to-one, but you see where Blake’s poetic, verbal imagination comes from. (Harold) Bloom in his notes points out the parallel between those lines.
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-four minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty minutes in