Ginsberg on Blake (Song of Los – Africa – 1)

William Blake – Europe supported by Africa and America, 1796 – (engraving 7 2/3″ x 5 1/2″) – courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s prophetic books  continues from here.  Having completed a review of Blake’s Europe – A Prophecy, he begins with an examination of the first section of  The Song of Los, Africa


AG:  Now, “Africa”.  What does he mean by Africa?  What does (Blake) know about Africa, to begin with?  He’s already illustrated various books on slavery.  And Africa in his system is one of the four continents.  And this one, the first continent, representing the enslavement of man to reason.  So this is actually….

Has anybody read these (poems) “Asia” and “Africa”?  How many have read these?  I’ve been assigning them for weeks.  I’m doing all this work, you guys aren’t doing nothing.

It’s interesting to go through them this way, but if you read them just read them carelessly one time.  If you read this stuff carelessly it’s alright one time, just (in order to) get the questions in your mind, just (to) realize how opaque it is, and at the same time how beautiful the individual lines are. Then we have something to work with.  In other words, stumble (through) it a couple of times.  It takes five minutes to read these, actually.  Five pages – or ten minutes, maybe.  Then you’ll appreciate the exposition more, or it’ll make more sense to you.

“I will sing you a song of Los. the Eternal Prophet”

Okay, he’s going to begin something, but it isn’t very long. It’s only a page and a half.  And actually it’s like the preludiums to the other books.  According to Erdman, these are actually preludes to other giant books of prophecy that Blake got too tired to write, or maybe changed his mind.  He was going to have this vast scheme of the four continents — Asia, Africa, Europe (and America).  He’s had America (and) Europe:  Now he’s going to do Africa, which is a historical review of the enslavement of the mind and the enslavement of man, using Africa as that symbol.  But he never did actually do that.  (He never went) all the way back to primeval history, but he did make an outline, sort of as a Preludium, and he might have made a giant book as big as (John Milton’s) “Paradise Lost” out of it.

“I will sing you a song of Los. the Eternal Prophet” – (The poet) – “He sung it to four harps..” – (The four continents – Four harps) – “… at the tables of Eternity,/In heart-formed Africa,/Urizen faded! Ariston shudderd!..” – (Ariston, the king of beauty on Atlantean hills, if you remember from…)

Student: America’
AG:  America.  Yeah,  America, the American Revolution. “And thus the Song began..”-(The reason Urizen faded is because the poetic imagination is bringing light on this whole subject, now).

“Adam stood in the garden of Eden:/And Noah on the mountains of Ararat;/They saw Urizen give his Laws to the Nations..” – (That’s Jehovah, and the Mosaic tablets; the imposition of monotheism (and) authoritative religion).

“By the hands of the children of Los..” – (We’ve had the children of Los.  Actually the ones we’ve met already are Rintrah, wrath, and Palamabron, pity.  Wrath and pity, which fit to Jehovah.  That is, false hypocritic pity, and self-righteous wrath).

Student:  Also, I think, Theotormon and Bromion.

AG:  Theotormon and Bromion, also.  Everybody with his emotions awry.

“They saw Urizen give his Laws to the Nations/ By the hands of the children of Los.” – (These are all the children of poetic imagination, but a screwed-up imagination so far) –

“Adam shudderd! Noah faded! black grew the sunny African/When Rintrah gave Abstract Philosophy to Brama in the East..” – (In other words, the Africans didn’t grow black until they were blackened by intellect, blackened by an intellect that was harsh or an intellect that actually was insane.  Remember also when the sun was blackened constantly, or when nature is blackened with the clouds of guilt-thought (or) guilty thought?  So “black grew the sunny African,” which is a funny explanation of why people from Africa are black, according to Blake.  But It was on account of Jehovah (coming) down with the mind, with Moloch whose name was the mind.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in  

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