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William Blake and America Edit

It cannot have escaped your attention that William Blake (1757-1827) one of the most colourful and contradictory of Britain's poets, is being celebrated this week. I had recently been re-introduced to Blake by Juan Calle, the chair of the Casa del Poeta Peruano de Londres and I wonder if we cannot take this opportunity to fit Blake into our pantheon of British "public intellectuals" who have (or could or even should have) influenced thought in South America or vice versa. The influence of the (North) American Revolution is spelt out in some of his poetry. The Preludium To America is perhaps better known:

The Preludium To America Edit

The shadowy Daughter of Urthona stood before red Orc,
When fourteen suns had faintly journey'd o'er his dark abode:
His food she brought in iron baskets, his drink in cups of iron:
Crown'd with a helmet and dark hair the nameless female stood;
A quiver with its burning stores, a bow like that of night,
When pestilence is shot from heaven: no other arms she need!
When pestilence is shot from heaven: no other arms she need!
Invulnerable though naked, save where clouds roll round her loins
Their awful folds in the dark air: silent she stood as night;
For never from her iron tongue could voice or sound arise,
But dumb till that dread day when Orc assay'd his fierce embrace.
"Dark Virgin," said the hairy youth, "thy father stern, abhorr'd,
Rivets my tenfold chains while still on high my spirit soars;
Sometimes an Eagle screaming in the sky, sometimes a Lion

Stalking upon the mountains, and sometimes a Whale, I lash
The raging fathomless abyss; anon a Serpent folding
Around the pillars of Urthona, and round thy dark limbs
On the Canadian wilds I fold; feeble my spirit folds,
For chain'd beneath I rend these caverns: when thou bringest food
I howl my joy, and my red eyes seek to behold thy face--
In vain! these clouds roll to and fro, and hide thee from my sight."


Silent as despairing love, and strong as jealousy,
The hairy shoulders rend the links; free are the wrists of fire;
Round the terrific loins he seiz'd the panting, struggling womb;
It joy'd: she put aside her clouds and smiled her first-born smile,
As when a black cloud shews its lightnings to the silent deep.
Soon as she saw the terrible boy, then burst the virgin cry:
"I know thee, I have found thee, and I will not let thee go:
Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa,
And thou art fall'n to give me life in regions of dark death.

On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions
Endur'd by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep.
I see a Serpent in Canada who courts me to his love,
In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;
I see a Whale in the south-sea, drinking my soul away.
O what limb-rending pains I feel! thy fire and my frost
Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by thy lightnings rent.
This is eternal death, and this the torment long foretold."

The four animals mentioned in line 13 and 33 represent the "four quarters of America" and the "lion" Peru:

On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions Endur'd by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep. I see a Serpent in Canada who courts me to his love, In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;

A Lion in Peru Edit

One of the (sometimes fairly loose) threads which have tied these Minka / Minkapedia articles together is the "two-way flow of ideas between the Americas and Europe" - both now and, as in the case of Blake, at the time of creole independence, which Blake's life neatly spans.

Research questionEdit

Did Blake meet (or even have the opportunity to meet)in Britain any of Latin
America's "precursors" of independence (Miranda, Bello, Bolivar . . . )? 

Notes and referencesEdit

If any reader would like to add / edit this text (which you can do - as in Wikipedia) and/or the text of other relevant articles in Minkapedia or the Opentext Journal of Peruvian Studies please turn to

Opentext Journal of Peruvian Studies http://academia.wikia.com/wiki/Journal_of_Peruvian_Studies or direct to Minkapedia

Other references about William Blake http://quotations.about.com/cs/poemlyrics/a/Preludium_To_Am.htm http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/191.html

The latter reference gives line-by-line note on the poem - a sample is given below. Please go to the website for fuller information.

1] America, A Prophecy, was first engraved in 1793, in eighteen plates, and deals with Blake's interpretation of the American Revolution. Orc (partly from Latin orcus, hell) is the spirit of freedom inspiring the American revolt. He is associated with the classical Titans, with the Norse god Loki, also imprisoned in a "cavern" (line 18) under a mountain, and with Esau, the rightful heir of Isaac (cf. "hairy youth" in line 11 with Gen. 27: 11). The "Daughter of Urthona" is the land of America which a new civilization is taking possession of. Urthona: the creative power of the imagination, later identified with Los, the hero of most of Blake's prophecies.


2] fourteen: the age of puberty.


3] iron. Urthona or Los in Blake is a blacksmith: cf. Isa. 54.16.




http://quotations.about.com/cs/poemlyrics/a/Preludium_To_Am.htm ~ For annotated references - line by line see http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/191.html

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