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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Continuation of Samson I.
The Biblical Samson resembles the hero character commonly portrayed in the literature of ancient cultures. His birth was foretold by an angel; he exhibited  supernatural powers of strength including overcoming a lion barehanded; he defied his father; he was betrayal by a female; and he endured punishments including blinding by his enemies. His final achievement was destroying his enemies by demolishing their temple through undermining the pillars that supported it. His feats put him in the category with Hercules and innumerable heroes.
Judges 16
[20] And she said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep, and said, "I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free." And he did not know that the LORD had left him.
[21] And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with bronze fetters; and he ground at the mill in the prison.
[22] But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
[23] Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said, "Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand."
[25] And when their hearts were merry, they said, "Call Samson, that he may make sport for us." So they called Samson out of the prison, and he made sport before them. They made him stand between the pillars;
[26] and Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, "Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them."
[27] Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson made sport.
[28] Then Samson called to the LORD and said, "O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes."
[29] And Samson grasped the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and he leaned his weight upon them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other.
[30] And Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines." Then he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life.
[31] Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Esh'ta-ol in the tomb of Mano'ah his father. He had judged Israel twenty years. 

Blake did not return to a direct account of Samson in his poetry but Blake's hero, John Milton, wrote Samson Agonistes as perhaps his last poem. Blake mentions Samson in Milton in conjunction with Swedenborg whom Blake saw as a failed hero. Blake felt that Swedenborg like Samson had lost his strength when he allowed worldly considerations to replace commitment to the truth he had been given.

Milton, Plate 22 [24], (E 117)
"They perverted Swedenborgs Visions in Beulah & in Ulro;
To destroy Jerusalem as a Harlot & her Sons as Reprobates;
To raise up Mystery the Virgin Harlot Mother of War,
Babylon the Great, the Abomination of Desolation!
O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches!

Shewing the Transgresors in Hell, the proud Warriors in Heaven:
Heaven as a Punisher & Hell as One under Punishment:
With Laws from Plato & his Greeks to renew the Trojan Gods,
In Albion; & to deny the value of the Saviours blood.
But then I rais'd up Whitefield, Palamabron raisd up Westley,"    
An association of Albion with the Biblical Samson and with Milton's Samson Agonistes is apparent in the inscription which Blake included on the reengraved plate of the jubilant Albion which is known as Glad Day or Albion Rose

Inscription, (E 671)
"Albion rose from where he labourd at the Mill with Slaves
Giving himself for the Nations he danc'd the dance of Eternal Death"


The phrase 'at the mill with slaves' is quoted from Milton as he represented Samson's condition before he regained his strength and rose from his captivity to the Philistines. The idea that Samson goes to his physical death along with his captors, as he returns to spiritual life by self-sacrifice, is implied by Blake in his caption for the portrayal of Albion.    

Samson Agonistes
by John Milton
"Design'd for great exploits; if I must dye Betray'd, Captiv'd, and both my Eyes put out,
Made of my Enemies the scorn and gaze;
To grind in Brazen Fetters under task               [ 35 ]
With this Heav'n-gifted strength? O glorious strength
Put to the labour of a Beast, debas't
Lower then bondslave! Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him   [ 40 ]

Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke;" 
Blake recalls experiencing himself the despair of feeling enslaved to forced labor in this letter:
Letter to  Hayley, 1804, (E 756)
"I speak with
perfect confidence and certainty of the fact which has passed
upon me.  Nebuchadnezzar had seven times passed over him; I have
had twenty; thank God I was not altogether a beast as he was; but
I was a slave bound in a mill among beasts and devils; these
beasts and these devils are now, together with myself, become
children of light and liberty, and my feet and my wife's feet are
free from fetters."  
The release from slavery in the mill provides one of the metaphors for the rebirth near the end of the Four Zoas.
Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 134, (E 402)
"Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air
Let the inchaind soul shut up in darkness & in sighing           
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years
Rise & look out his chains are loose his dungeon doors are open"
Sketch for Illustrations of the Book of Job
Page 3

As illustrated by Blake the disaster which befell the sons of Job is reminiscent of the destruction of the temple by Samson.

No comments:

Post a Comment