Mark Vernon introduces a stirring section from Blake’s epic Jerusalem, in which Albion rejects the spiritual life. Mark’s new online course, William Blake in 42 Images, is released this week
Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-1820) is the last epic poem by William Blake, which he regarded as his masterpiece. In the poem, a character can be a person and a place. Albion is a man, as well as being Britain. Jerusalem is a woman and a city, and is also an embodiment of the spiritual life.
The poem’s plot tells how Albion rejects Jerusalem, the spiritual life. To him, possessing England is more important than participating in the free, flowing life of its rivers, vales and mountains. He says the idea that such things are spiritually valuable is an empty fantasy of the “over heated brain”.
In the section below, Blake tells how Albion angrily turns away from the divine. He prefers aggression and warfare, which makes him unable to see the true beauty of our infinite reality.
Then, the city of London itself calls out to Albion, telling him that urban life shouldn’t be a struggle – it should be something that liberates us.
Next, in the final lines of this extract, Blake himself speaks, describing the eternity that exists in human hearts as well as the beautiful heavens.
Extract from Plate 34 “The Sickness of Albion” (title given by Kathleen Raine)
Turning from Universal Love petrific as he [Albion] went,
His cold against the warmth of Eden rag’d with loud
Thunders of deadly war (the fever of the human soul)
Fires and clouds of rolling smoke! but mild the Saviour follow’d him,
Displaying the Eternal Vision! the Divine Similitude!
In loves and tears of brothers, sisters, sons, fathers, and friends
Which if Man ceases to behold, he ceases to exist:
Saying, “Albion! Our wars are wars of life, & wounds of love,
With intellectual spears, & long winged arrows of thought:
Mutual in one anothers love and wrath all renewing
We live as One Man; for contracting our infinite senses
We behold multitude; or expanding: we behold as one,
As One Man all the Universal Family; and that One Man
We call Jesus the Christ: and he in us, and we in him,
Live in perfect harmony in Eden the land of life,
Giving, receiving, and forgiving each others trespasses.
He is the Good shepherd, he is the Lord and master:
He is the Shepherd of Albion, he is all in all,
In Eden: in the garden of God: and in heavenly Jerusalem.
If we have offended, forgive us, take not vengeance against us.”
Thus speaking; the Divine Family follow Albion:
I see them in the Vision of God upon my pleasant valleys.
I behold London; a Human awful wonder of God!
He says: “Return, Albion, return! I give myself for thee:
My Streets are my, Ideas of Imagination.
Awake Albion, awake! and let us awake up together.
My Houses are Thoughts: my Inhabitants; Affections,
The children of my thoughts, walking within my blood-vessels,
Shut from my nervous form which sleeps upon the verge of Beulah
In dreams of darkness, while my vegetating blood in veiny pipes,
Rolls dreadful thro’ the Furnaces of Los, and the Mills of Satan.
For Albions sake, and for Jerusalem thy Emanation
I give myself, and these my brethren give themselves for Albion.”
So spoke London, immortal Guardian! I heard in Lambeths shades:
In Felpham I heard and saw the Visions of Albion
I write in South Molton Street, what I both see and hear
In regions of Humanity, in Londons opening streets.
I see thee awful Parent Land in light, behold I see!
Verulam! Canterbury! venerable parent of men,
Generous immortal Guardian golden clad! for Cities
Are Men, fathers of multitudes, and Rivers & Mount[a]ins
Are also Men; every thing is Human, mighty! sublime!
In every bosom a Universe expands, as wings
Let down at will around, and call’d the Universal Tent.
York, crown’d with loving kindness. Edinburgh, cloth’d
With fortitude as with a garment of immortal texture
Woven in looms of Eden, in spiritual deaths of mighty men
Who give themselves, in Golgotha, Victims to Justice; where
There is in Albion a Gate of precious stones and gold
Seen only by Emanations, by vegetations viewless,
Bending across the road of Oxford Street; it from Hyde Park
To Tyburns deathful shades, admits the wandering souls
Of multitudes who die from Earth: this Gate cannot be found
By Satans Watch-fiends tho’ they search numbering every grain
Of sand on Earth every night, they never find this Gate.
It is the Gate of Los. Withoutside is the Mill, intricate, dreadful
And fill’d with cruel tortures; but no mortal man can find the Mill
Of Satan, in his mortal pilgrimage of seventy years
For Human beauty knows it not: nor can Mercy find it!
Look out for Mark Vernon’s online course for the Idler Academy, William Blake in 42 Images.
Mark recommends Blake Complete Writings (Oxford Standard Writings), ed Sir Geoffrey Keynes, Oxford Paperbacks, 1969. Available cheaply from Abebooks
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