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it, as that of a man whose eyes are fixed on strange and awful sights, invisible to bystanders. To use an expression of Blake's own, on a subsequent occasion, it is as if the · Visions were angry,' and hurried in stormy disorder before his rapt gaze, no longer to bless and teach, but to bewilder and confound.
The Preludium, and the two accompanying specimen pages, which give a portion of both words and design, will enable the reader to form some idea of the poem. There occurs in one of the latter an allusion to the Courts of Law at Westminster, which is a striking instance of that occasional mingling of the actual with the purely symbolic, before spoken of. Perhaps the broidery of spider's web which so felicitously embellishes the page, was meant to bear a typical reference to the same.
The 'nameless shadowy female,' with whose lamentation the poem opens, personifies Europe as it would seem ; her head (the mountains) turbaned with clouds, and round her limbs, the 'sheety waters' wrapped ; whilst Enitharmon symbolizes great mother Nature :
The nameless shadowy female rose from out
O mother Enitharmon, wilt thou bring forth other sons ? • To cause my name to vanish, that my place may not be found ? * For I am faint with travel ! Like the dark cloud disburdened in the day of dismal thunder.
“My roots are brandish'd in the heavens ; my fruits in earth beneath,
Then why shouldst thou, accursed mother! bring me into life ?
I weep !—my turban of thick clouds around my lab’ring head; ' And fold the sheety waters as a mantle round my limbs.
Yet the red sun and moon * And all the overflowing stars rain down prolific pains. * Unwilling I look up to heaven : unwilling count the stars, * Sitting in fathomless abyss of my immortal shrine. 'I seize their burning power, ' And bring forth howling terrors and devouring fiery kings ! * Devouring and devoured, roaming on dark and desolate mountains, “In forests of eternal death, shrieking in hollow trees, “Ah! mother Enitharmon! • Stamp not with solid form this vig'rous progeny of fire ! 'I bring forth from my teeming bosom, myriads of flames, ' And thou dost stamp them with a signet. Then they roam abroad, ' And leave me, void as death. "Ah! I am drown'd in shady woe, and visionary joy. * And who shall bind the infinite with an eternal band ? • To compass it with swaddling bands? And who shall cherish it • With milk and honey ? "I see it smile, and I roll inward, and my voice is past.'
She ceas'd; and rolled her shady clouds
So rapid was the production of this class of Blake's writings, that notwithstanding their rich and elaborate decoration, and the tedious process by which the whole had to be, with his own hand, engraved and afterwards coloured, the same year witnessed the completion of another, and the succeeding year, of two more 'prophetic books.' The Book of Urizen (1794), was the title of the next. The same may be said of it as of its predecessors. Like them, the poem is shapeless, unfathomable ; but in the heaping up of gloomy and terrible images, the America and Europe are even exceeded. It throws however, some vivid though confused glimpses of light upon the speculative conceptions of Blake himself-conceptions not essentially undevout, but much the reverse, in their own audacious, iconoclastic way.
The following striking passage, which describes the appearing of the first woman, will serve as an example of Urizen :
At length, in tears and cries, embodied
Spread a tent with strong curtains around them :
The design, like the text, is characterized by a monotony of horror. Every page may be said as a furnace mouth to
Cast forth redounding smoke and ruddy flame,'
in the midst of which are figures howling, weeping, writhing, or chained to rocks, or hurled headlong into the abyss. There are grand things among them. Of the more striking, we recal a figure that stoops over and seems breathing upon a globe enveloped in flames, the lines of fire flowing into those of his drapery and hair ; an old, amphibious-looking giant, with rueful visage, letting himself sink slowly through the waters like a frog ; a skeleton coiled round, resembling a fossil giant imbedded in the rock, &c. The colouring is rich,-a little overcharged perhaps in the copy I have seen,-ånd gold-leaf has been freely used, to heighten the effect.
Still another volume bears date 1794,-a small quarto, consisting of twenty-three engraved and coloured designs, without letter-press, explanation, or key of any kind. The designs are of various size, all fine in colour, all extraordinary, some beautiful, others monstrous, abounding in forced attitudes, and suspicious anatomy. The frontispiece, adopted from Irizen, is inscribed Lambeth, printed by Will. Blake, 1794, and has the figure of an aged man, naked, with white beard sweeping the ground, and extended arms, each hand resting on a pile of books, and each holding a pen, wherewith he writes. The volume seems to be a carefully finished selection of favourite compositions from his portfolios and engraved books. Four are recognisable as the principal designs of the Book of Thel, modified in outline, and in colour richer and deeper. Que occurs in the Visions of the Daughters of Albion. Another will hereafter re-appear in the illustrations to The Grave : The spirit of the strong wicked man going forth.'
The Song of Los (1795), is in metrical prose, and is divided into two portions, one headed Africa, the other Asia. In it, we again, as in the America, seem to catch a thread of connected meaning. It purports to show the rise and influence of different religions and philosophies upon mankind; but, according to Blake's wont, both action and dialogue are carried on, not by human agents, but by shadowy immortals, Orc, Sotha, Palamabron, Rintrah, Los, and many more :--
Then Rintrah gave abstract philosophy to Brama in the East;
Against one another : so let them war on!