Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his first illustration to Il Penseroso:
Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)

"Come pensive Nun devout & pure
Sober stedfast & demure
All in Robe of darkest grain
Flowing with majestic train
Come but keep thy wonted state
With even step & musing gait
And looks commercing with the Skies
And join with thee calm Peace & Quiet
Spare Fast who oft with Gods doth diet
And hears the Muses in a ring 
Ay round about Joves altar sing
And add to these retired Leisure
Who in trim Gardens takes his pleasure
But first & Chiefest with thee bring
Him who yon soars on golden Wing
Guiding the Fiery wheeled Throne
The Cherub Contemplation
Less Philomel will deign a song
In her sweetest saddest plight
Smoothing the rugged Brow of Night
While Cynthia Checks her dragon yoke
Gently o'er the accustomd Oak
Blake Wrote:
"These Personifications are all brought together in this
design surrounding the Principal Figure Who is Melancholy herself"

The first illustration of Il Penseroso like the first of L'Allegro represents the central figure of the poem surrounded by associated images which are overtly mentioned in Milton's poem. Since Blake took this literal approach to the two illustration we can assume he is starting us out in each set of illustrations at the first level (which he calls Newton's sleep) of the fourfold levels of vision and will progress through others.
In Jerusalem Blake calls the Emanation a melancholy Shadow.

Jerusalem, Plate 53, (E 208)
Man divided from his Emanation is a dark Spectre
His Emanation is an ever-weeping melancholy Shadow
But she is made receptive of Generation thro' mercy"

Blake's personal experience of Melancholy had nothing to recommend it.

Letters, To Cumberland, (E 706)
"I begin to
Emerge from a Deep pit of Melancholy, Melancholy without any real
reason for it, a Disease which God keep you from & all good men."

The figure at the top of the illustration is 'Him who yon soars on golden Wing / Guiding the Fiery wheeled Throne / The Cherub Contemplation'. As a young man wrote a poem Contemplation which was published in Poetical Sketches.

This image can be dramatically enlarged by right clicking and selecting open in a new window. The enlarged image will be highly detailed.

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