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The poet and the cycles of history : a reading of Blake’s America and Europe Amor, Norman L.

Abstract

Blake's first Interest in "America" and "Europe" is with transcending the cycles of history, the Orc cycle, which, despite the weight of much critical opinion, is a real presence in these poems. The two poems are "prophecies," and the prophet is defined as the poet, the just man uttering his opinions: prophecy is a kind of interpretive history. Blake's apocalypse is a conditional human revelation. The "stern Bard" in the "America" Preludium is an example of the prophetic mode misrepresented, as he is aligned with the cycles of history. A close reading of "America" supports the view that history is cyclic. In the text and designs to "America" we are not encouraged to expect transcendence from Orc's revolution, but at the defeat of Albion's Angel the prophetic voice moves to an apocalyptic vision as appearances are burned away. Orc is in his dual character as spirit of liberty and spirit of war, but both sides of his character are involved in cycles. The Orc cycle seen in "America" has been anticipated in "Tiriel", "Visions" and the "Marriage". The implication is that the only value of the American Revolution is its significance in terms of the individual. The movement within "America", and from "America" to "Europe", is generally one from concern with social unrest to concern with the individual consciousness, from physical to mental tyranny. The Fairy's song prefixed to "Europe" indicates that the nature of the materiel world is Blake's theme in the poem, and in the Preludium, Nature appears in a state of despair. The designs demonstrate the strife and injustice of the world ruled by tyrants, here particularly the Female Will. Enitharmon's dream describes the aftermath of the American Revolution, in which the intensification of the tyranny compels its victims to see its true nature. The eternal world is that of universal psychological processes and forces, and Enitharmon's children represent various manifestations of her doctrines. Orc and Los are the only two figures to escape the passivity her doctrines instill. Enitharmon's children are also Los's children, and the closing passage to Europe outlines the various traps into which a poet can fall, all of which arise from the concept that the material world is dead, that an outside authority is necessary to dictate a code of ethics. Though Los is a tyrant in the early part of the poem, here he has regenerated and speaks with authority. The closing line to "Africa" in the "Song of Los" indicates that Los is also the narrator of America, that Orc's revolution is in fact Los's revolution, for it is seen through Los's eyes. Orc, like spring and dawn, is an image of apocalypse, but it is the poet-figure who sees beyond the cycles to interpret the significance of this manifestation of power.

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