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English Poetry

William Blake: The Prophetic works

1757-1827, English poet, artist and engraver. London.

'Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion'

First Milton saw Albion upon the Rock of Ages Deadly pale outstretch’d and snowy cold, storm cover’d, a Giant form of perfect beauty outstretch’d on the rock…

All things begin and end in Albion’s ancient Druid rocky shore. But now the Starry Heavens are fled from the mighty limbs of Albion... First Milton saw Albion upon the Rock of Ages Deadly pale outstretch’d and snowy cold, storm cover’d, a Giant form of perfect beauty outstretch’d on the rock... O Divine Spirit, sustain me on thy wings, that I may awake Albion from his long and cold repose...

Excerpts from William Blake's poems Milton and Jerusalem from: Keynes, Geoffrey, 1966. Blake: The Complete Writings. Oxford University Press.

The London poet and engraver William Blake lived in Sussex for four years; at Felpham, near Bognor Regis, from 1800 to 1804. During this time he expanded the mythology he had created in Lambeth in illuminated books such as Europe and The First Book of Urizen and penned The Four Zoas, which was probably written in Felpham and from which his long poems Milton and Jerusalem were both to spring. And whether or not Blake had ever visited the Long Man, which is only forty miles from Felpham, he was inspired by the same tradition. It has always been a legend that Britain was inhabited by giants before the Romans came, before the coming of Christianity. During the last three decades of his life, William Blake composed two long and almost impenetrable poems about the Giant Albion that had begun as an attempt to write a Bible of Hell.

And not in any Satanic sense. Blake certainly wasn’t a Satanist. But he wanted to try to express in words an alternative religious tradition, one that was very different to the one he had been brought up in; possibly the antithesis. In the story that evolved, Orc became a central figure. Orc had begun life as a symbol of the spirit of rebellion in the American colonies in Blake's poem America, written in 1793 – Red Orc, perhaps Red Hawk spoken with a working-class London accent, an American Indian-sounding name. Orc was chained to a rock, waiting to find release, and his fate began to merge, in Blake's poetry, with that of a Giant Albion who was also spread out upon a rock in a subterranean cavern beneath Britain, waiting to awaken and be released and the folklore 'motif' of the sleeping hero under the mountain, i.e. in a subterranean Otherworld... is only recorded as being attached to one figure before the twelfth century. This was an unnamed British deity (equated with the Greek Chronos) asleep in a deep enchanted cavern in an island near Britain, who is mentioned by Plutarch. A symbol of political rebellion in America was becoming, for Blake, a symbol of religious rebellion at home.

'And when Orc does indeed find release in The Four Zoas, it is like the second coming of Christ,' said Quintin. 'The heralding of a new age. A new Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the daughter of the Giant Albion. Hence the name of Blake's longest poem. Jerusalem.'

'Albion was the old name for Britain,' said Miranda. 'Jerusalem was the daughter of the Giant Albion. A female. So perhaps the awakening of the Giant Albion and the coming of a new Jerusalem is a call for the return to ascendency of the female spirit of Britain.'

Quotation concerning an unnamd British deity asleep in a cavern from a modern study of the originally mythological nature of Arthur in: Green, Thomas, 2007. Concepts of Arthur. Tempus Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire. 5. The Origins of 'Arthur', p 196.

Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804, in: Keynes, Geoffrey, 1966. Blake: The Complete Writings. Oxford University Press.

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