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

Friday, January 31, 2014


Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Illustration 8, Thomas Set
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

"The Scene changes presenting Ludlow Town and the Presidents Castle, then com in Countrey-Dancers, after them the attendant Spirit, with the two Brothers and the Lady.
Line 958

Back Shepherds, back, anough your play,
Till next Sun-shine holiday, Here be without duck or nod Other trippings to be trod
Of lighter toes, and such Court guise
As Mercury did first devise
With the mincing Dryades
On the Lawns, and on the Leas.

This second Song presents them to their father and mother.
Noble Lord, and Lady bright,
I have brought ye new delight,
Here behold so goodly grown
Three fair branches of your own,
Heav'n hath timely tri'd their youth,
Their faith, their patience, and their truth,
And sent them here through hard assays
With a crown of deathless Praise,
To triumph in victorious dance
 O're sensual Folly, and Intemperance."

In the final scene of Milton's mask, he shifted from the imaginary events of the children journeying through the forest and encountering Comus, the attendant Spirit and Sabrina; to the real events of the children shedding their characters and rejoining the parents to celebrate their father's installation as
Lord President of Wales and The Marches. Blake, however, stuck to completing the story which was being told in mythopoeic events. The Lady had experienced an epiphany which completed her childhood and set her on the path of an adult woman confronting the challenges of living in a world where male and female, soul and body, inner and outer must be reconciled. Blake's picture shows the Lady returning to a modest home and being greeted by simple, middle aged parents. The couple is representative of the divided world in which matter and sexuality rule. The Lady had accepted consignment to the world of generation with the promise that it would lead to regeneration.

The work of the attendant Spirit was complete. The shepherd disguise was shed and the Spirit resumed an angelic form. 
But the work of the Lady in the world of Generation had begun. She had been offered the gift of sinking into the water of material life and had accepted it. The irony is that the garment of materiality was put on for the purpose of learning the skills for removing it: brotherhood, forgiveness and annihilation of the Selfhood.

Milton, Plate 41 [48], (E 142)
"These are the Sexual Garments, the Abomination of Desolation
Hiding the Human lineaments as with an Ark & Curtains

Which Jesus rent: & now shall wholly purge away with Fire
Till Generation is swallowd up in Regeneration."

Jerusalem, Plate 7, (E 150)
[Los speaks]
"Comfort thyself in my strength the time will arrive,
When all Albions injuries shall cease, and when we shall         
Embrace him tenfold bright, rising from his tomb in immortality.
They have divided themselves by Wrath. they must be united by
Pity: let us therefore take example & warning O my Spectre,
O that I could abstain from wrath! O that the Lamb
Of God would look upon me and pity me in my fury.                
In anguish of regeneration! in terrors of self annihilation:
Pity must join together those whom wrath has torn in sunder,
And the Religion of Generation which was meant for the destruction
Of Jerusalem, become her covering, till the time of the End.
O holy Generation! [Image] of regeneration!    
O point of mutual forgiveness between Enemies!
Birthplace of the Lamb of God incomprehensible!"

Jerusalem, Plate 90, (E 250)
"Los cries: No Individual ought to appropriate to Himself
Or to his Emanation, any of the Universal Characteristics
Of David or of Eve, of the Woman, or of the Lord.           
Of Reuben or of Benjamin, of Joseph or Judah or Levi
Those who dare appropriate to themselves Universal Attributes
Are the Blasphemous Selfhoods & must be broken asunder
A Vegetated Christ & a Virgin Eve, are the Hermaphroditic
Blasphemy, by his Maternal Birth he is that Evil-One         
And his Maternal Humanity must be put off Eternally
Lest the Sexual Generation swallow up Regeneration
Come Lord Jesus take on thee the Satanic Body of Holiness

Four Zoas, Night I, Page 3, (E 301)
"Los was the fourth immortal starry one, & in the Earth
Of a bright Universe Empery attended day & night                 
Days & nights of revolving joy, Urthona was his name
Page 4
In Eden; in the Auricular Nerves of Human life
Which is the Earth of Eden, he his Emanations propagated
Fairies of Albion afterwards Gods of the Heathen, Daughter of Beulah Sing
His fall into Division & his Resurrection to Unity
His fall into the Generation of Decay & Death & his Regeneration 
     by the Resurrection from the dead"  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Blake altered several details in his second version of picture 7 illustrating the lines in which Sabrina sprinkles water on the Lady's breast and touches her fingertips and lips. In the Thomas version the Lady sits underground as she did in the first illustration of the series. In the Butts image she sits on the edge of the woods. Sabrina has lost two of her attending nymphs in the second version but has gained a rainbow. Expressions and gestures have been modified. The Lady seems more accepting of the changes she has undergone in the second illustration.
In both sets the attendant Spirit, still dressed as a shepherd, stands at the left of the picture and points heavenward. The attentive brothers watch as Sabrina provides her ministrations.

The addition of the rainbow creates another dimension to the transformation of the Lady. In the last post Sabrina's function was seen to be initiating the Lady to the world of generation as the next state on her journey. The rainbow is the symbol of the promise that generation will lead to regeneration. Damon tells us that: "Noah's rainbow is the hope and promise of immortality, as it symbolizes the spiritual body." (A Blake Dictionary, Page 340)

Wikipedia Commons
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 7

A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

Line 802
Spirit to Sabrina
"Goddess dear
We implore thy powerful hand
To undoe the charmed band
Of true Virgin here distrest,
Through the force, and through the wile
Of unblest inchanter vile.

Shepherd 'tis my office best
To help insnared chastity;"

Line 938
Lady while Heaven lends us grace,
Let us fly this cursed place,
Lest the Sorcerer us intice
With som other new device.
Not a waste, or needless sound
Till we com to holier ground,
I shall be your faithfull guide
Through this gloomy covert wide,"

  As the attendant Spirit was assigned to watch over the Lady in her passage through the internal struggles surrounding her transition from Innocence to Experience, Los was selected to watch over and guide Albion through the task of rebuilding the fractured psyche into a unity.

Jerusalem, Plate 83, (E 242)
Los spoke:
"It must lie in confusion till Albions time of awaking.
Place the Tribes of Llewellyn in America for a hiding place!
Till sweet Jerusalem emanates again into Eternity
The night falls thick: I go upon my watch: be attentive:
The Sons of Albion go forth; I follow from my Furnaces:
That they return no more: that a place be prepard on Euphrates
Listen to your Watchmans voice: sleep not before the Furnaces
Eternal Death stands at the door. O God pity our labours.

So Los spoke. to the Daughters of Beulah while his Emanation
Like a faint rainbow waved before him in the awful gloom
Of London City on the Thames from Surrey Hills to Highgate

Monday, January 27, 2014


 Under the guidance of the attendant Spirit, the Brothers sought the
    assistance of the Nymph, Sabrina, in disenchanting the Lady. Milton
    suggested the importance of Sabrina by providing her biography.
    Sabrina was given refuge in her flight from her father Brutus by
    Nymphs of the Severn. She became the Goddess of the river and a
    protector of the needy with a soft place in her heart for virgins
    like herself.

Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Illustration 7, Thomas Set
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

Line 910
"Brightest Lady look on me.
Thus I sprinkle on thy brest
Drops that from my fountain pure,
I have kept of pretious cure,
Thrice upon thy fingers tip,
Thrice upon thy rubied lip, [ 915 ]
Next this marble venom'd seat
Smear'd with gumms of glutenous heat
I touch with chaste palms moist and cold,

Now the spell hath lost his hold"

The cure for the Lady was provided by the agency of water. Everything in Milton's poetry about Sabrina alluded to water: she was saved in water by the Gods of water; all the Gods and Goddesses of water were invoked to secure her assistance for the Lady. Milton like Blake was aware that in Platonic philosophy the symbolic meaning of water is the material world. Blake saw that the introduction of the nymph Sabrina to perform the healing of the Lady indicated that her journey would take her through the world of matter. 

In his poetry Blake developed several symbols to represent man's journey through the material world. Moving through Innocence to Experience and beyond was an image of our journey through life on Earth. The process of creating bodies by Los and Enitharmon was preparation for the travels through generation which man undertakes. The descent from Eden through Beulah into Generation initiated the undertaking of the journey. In Comus, Sabrina's role was to propel the Lady along her journey. The Lady,
like Thel, hesitated to take the risk of engaging with the uncertainties of a fully human existence. Sabrina anointed the Lady with the water of baptism initiating her journey through generation or the material world.

Thel, Plate 5. (E 6)
"Wilt thou O Queen enter my house. 'tis given thee to enter,
And to return; fear nothing. enter with thy virgin feet.
Plate 6
The eternal gates terrific porter lifted the northern bar:
Thel enter'd in & saw the secrets of the land unknown;
She saw the couches of the dead, & where the fibrous roots
Of every heart on earth infixes deep its restless twists:
A land of sorrows & of tears where never smile was seen.

She wanderd in the land of clouds thro' valleys dark, listning
Dolours & lamentations: waiting oft beside a dewy grave
She stood in silence. listning to the voices of the ground,"

Saturday, January 25, 2014


In the performance of Milton's Mask, the arrival of the Brothers at Comus' palace would have been staged to entertain the audience. Noise, action, music and drama would have distinguished the event. The importance to the play is belied by the few lines which were devoted to describing it. Since this poem was written as a drama we should also remember that three of the actors were young: 15 years old and younger. The serious issues to which Milton alluded were imbedded in a play which could be light entertainment which children could present.
Wikipedia Commons
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 6

A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

Line 901
[Spirit to Sabrina]
"Goddess dear
We implore thy powerful hand
To undoe the charmed band
Of true Virgin here distrest,
Through the force, and through the wile
Of unblest inchanter vile."

Blake redesigned and reinterpreted his image for illustration 6 of the Butts set. The Lady is positioned more centrally in the picture. She still sits rigidly but she is not in the magic chair in which Comus seated her. The Lady, Comus, and enchanted figures occupy half of the picture enveloped in smoke. The background for the brothers on the opposite side is the forest in which they originally traveled. Consistent with the Thomas image are the brothers' swords, the cup, and the wand. But blue smoke from a fire beneath his feet surrounds Comus. Comus is partially clothed. The dark figures above Comus are sinister but human.

Since Milton had little to say about this scene, Blake choose to portray some of his own ideas about overcoming error in order to be transformed. Each of the characters in the smoke suffers from a befuddled mind. The clear minded brothers attempt to eliminate the confusion. Included among the figments resting on the smoke or cloud are a veiled woman and a bat-winged man. Blake's introduction of flames suggests that he is directing our attention to the possibility of transformation.  
Bette Charlene Werner believes that Blake's appreciation for Comus increased in the intervening years between the production of his two sets of illustrations. In Blake's Vision of the Poetry of Milton: Illustrations to Six Poems she states:
"From the changes Blake made in his second treatment of the masque one can discern an increased appreciation that comes through fidelity to the  poem's inner form, its pattern of spiritual pilgrimage. Having indicated his disagreements with Milton's ostensible subject of virginity in the first series of illustrations, Blake shows in the second his enhanced sense of an underlying truth in its poetry. Having revealed Milton's philosophical and artistic errors for the confining and paralyzing encrustations that they are, he is intent now on redeeming the masque as a true expression of poetic spirit. In his second set of Comus designs the clear dream and solemn vision of the masque are clarified."

In these passages from Milton, Blake distinguishes between unmaterialized 'Passions & Desires' which wail in their suffering, and the generated bodies which can gain experience and cast off error. The inward journey takes travelers through Golgonooza where they receive physical bodies to be born on earth. If we view Comus in the light of this paradigm the Lady is traveling inward to Golgonooza and Comus is traveling outward to Satan's seat.

Milton, Plate 3, (E 97)
"they Builded the Looms of Generation
They Builded Great Golgonooza Times on Times Ages on Ages"  
Milton, Plate I7 [19], (E 111)
"For travellers from Eternity. pass outward to Satans seat,
But travellers to Eternity. pass inward to Golgonooza."  
Milton, Plate 26 [28],(E 123)
"And these the Labours of the Sons of Los in Allamanda:
And in the City of Golgonooza: & in Luban: & around
The Lake of Udan-Adan, in the Forests of Entuthon Benython       
Where Souls incessant wail, being piteous Passions & Desires
With neither lineament nor form but like to watry clouds
The Passions & Desires descend upon the hungry winds
For such alone Sleepers remain meer passion & appetite;
The Sons of Los clothe them & feed & provide houses & fields   

And every Generated Body in its inward form,
Is a garden of delight & a building of magnificence,
Built by the Sons of Los in Bowlahoola & Allamanda
And the herbs & flowers & furniture & beds & chambers
Continually woven in the Looms of Enitharmons Daughters          
In bright Cathedrons golden Dome with care & love & tears
For the various Classes of Men are all markd out determinate

In Bowlahoola; & as the Spectres choose their affinities
So they are born on Earth, & every Class is determinate
But not by Natural but by Spiritual power alone, Because         
The Natural power continually seeks & tends to Destruction
Ending in Death: which would of itself be Eternal Death
And all are Class'd by Spiritual, & not by Natural power.

And every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not
A Natural: for a Natural Cause only seems, it is a Delusion      
Of Ulro: & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory."

Thursday, January 23, 2014


An impasse had been reached in the discussion between Comus and the Lady when her brothers arrive to rescue her. Although the Brothers secure Comus' glass and break it, Comus escapes with his wand without which the Lady cannot be freed from her chair. The attendant Spirit comes up with another strategy to secure the Lady's release.

From the beginning of the Mask, we have seen intimations that the Lady's condition is a consequence of he own mental disturbance. She is not of one mind in regard to remaining a child and becoming a woman. If she had drunk from Comus' cup she would have submitted to him on his terms. When that temptation is removed she is still immobilized by indecision. Because Milton leaves it unclear what prevents her from resolving her dilemma, readers are left to speculate. 

The image created for the 6th illustration in the Thomas Set reinforces the idea that the Lady's mind is confused by showing a cloud which encompasses her and includes the figments of imagination which accompanied Comus. The charming wand has not been secured by the brothers and continues to produce disturbing images. Comus has reverted  to his naked state in which be appeared in the first illustration. His role in the mask is finished.

Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Illustration 6, Thomas Set
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

[Stage Direction]
"The Brothers rush in with Swords drawn, wrest his Glass out of his hand, and break it against the ground; his rout make signe of resistance, but are all driven in; The attendant Spirit comes in." 

Line 814
What, have you let the false enchanter scape?
O ye mistook, ye should have snatcht his wand
And bound him fast; without his rod  revers't,
And backward mutters of dissevering power,
We cannot free the Lady that sits here
In stony fetters fixt and motionless;
Yet stay, be not disturb'd, now I bethink me,
Som other means I have which may be us'd,"

In Visions of the Daughters of Albion Oothoon was able to articulate the process through which she went in understanding the abuse she experienced. After soul- searching she arrived at self-acceptance. Listen as Oothoon struggles with her sexual dilemma following her rape by her betrothed's brother.

Visions of Daughters of Albion, Plate 2 ,(E 45) 
"The Daughters of Albion hear her woes. & eccho back her sighs.   

Why does my Theotormon sit weeping upon the threshold;
And Oothoon hovers by his side, perswading him in vain:
I cry arise O Theotormon for the village dog
Barks at the breaking day. the nightingale has done lamenting.
The lark does rustle in the ripe corn, and the Eagle returns     
From nightly prey, and lifts his golden beak to the pure east;
Shaking the dust from his immortal pinions to awake
The sun that sleeps too long. Arise my Theotormon I am pure.
Because the night is gone that clos'd me in its deadly black.
They told me that the night & day were all that I could see;     
They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up.
And they inclos'd my infinite brain into a narrow circle,
And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe hot burning
Till all from life I was obliterated and erased.
Instead of morn arises a bright shadow, like an eye              
In the eastern cloud: instead of night a sickly charnel house;
That Theotormon hears me not! to him the night and morn
Are both alike: a night of sighs, a morning of fresh tears;"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


In the Butts picture for the 5th illustration for Comus, Blake departs considerably from his earlier image. At the table are animals known for extremes: the elephant for his size, the lion as a predator, the hog for consuming food, the bird as a scavenger of the dead. Blake is illustrating the excessive appetites in nature with which Comus proposes the Lady should feel free to try in order 'to please, and sate the curious taste.'

Wikimedia Commons  
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 5

A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

Line 709
"Wherefore did Nature powre her bounties froth,
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the Seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please, and sate the curious taste?"

 Line 678
"Why should you be so cruel to your self,
And to those dainty limms which nature lent
For gentle usage, and soft delicacy?
But you invert the cov'nants of her trust,"


The withered man on the left may represent what Blake sees as the wisdom which Comus follows. Young and vigorous in appearance as the tempter, his philosophy is weak and weary when put to the test. Comus invites the Lady to be wise by tasting his wisdom. 

Line 811
"But this will cure all streight, one sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight
Beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise, and taste." 

There is another more significant addition to illustration 5 of the Butts set: the serpent seen in the cloud along Comus' wand. Any pretense of beneficence is destroyed when the wand is seen in conjunction with the figure of the serpent. However the serpent seems to emanate from the vial held by the old man and not from the dominant image of Comus. The figures of Comus and the Lady seem less at odds in this illustration than in the one in the Thomas Set. Comus is even less threatening, more distressed; and the lady less self-protective. Perhaps Blake is indicating the threat is less from the sexuality represented by the figure of Comus and more from the materialist ideas of natural philosophy apparent in his arguments.


The lament of Los over his estranged Enitharmon may describe the feelings of Comus when he finds the Lady unobtainable. 

Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 81,(E 357)
"Then Los mournd on the dismal wind in his jealous lamentation

Why can I not Enjoy thy beauty   Lovely Enitharmon
When I return from clouds of Grief in the wandring Elements
Where thou in thrilling joy in beaming summer loveliness 
Delectable reposest ruddy in my absence flaming with beauty
Cold pale in sorrow at my approach trembling at my terrific
Forehead & eyes thy lips decay like roses in the spring 
How art thou Shrunk thy grapes that burst in summers vast Excess
Shut up in little purple covering faintly bud & die    
Thy olive trees that pourd down oil upon a thousand hills
Sickly look forth & scarcely stretch their branches to the plain
Thy roses that expanded in the face of glowing morn
PAGE 82 
Hid in a little silken veil scarce breathe & faintly shine
Thy lilies that gave light what time the morning looked forth
Hid in the Vales faintly lament & no one hears their voice
All things beside the woful Los enjoy the delights of beauty
Once how I sang & calld the beasts & birds to their delights 
Nor knew that I alone exempted from the joys of love
Must war with secret monsters of the animating worlds
O that I had not seen the day then should I be at rest
Nor felt the stingings of desire nor longings after life
For life is Sweet to Los the wretched to his winged woes   
Is given a craving cry that they may sit at night on barren rocks
And whet their beaks & snuff the air & watch the opening dawn"

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Blake's Illustration 5 shows Comus in his own element in the company of enchanted men with the appearance of birds. His wand and cup stand ready to work their spells. Immobilized the Lady sits on a rectangular chair decorated with women entwined by snakes. The Lady sits demurely with hands crossed over her bosom. 

Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Illustration 5
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

[Stage Direction]
"The Scene changes to a stately Palace, set out with all manner of deliciousness; soft Musick, Tables spred with all dainties. Comus appears with his rabble, and the Lady set in an inchanted Chair, to whom he offers his Glass, which she puts by, and goes about to rise.

Line 659

Nay Lady sit; if I but wave this wand,
Your nervs are all chain'd up in Alabaster,
And you a statue; or as Daphne was
Root-bound, that fled Apollo,

Fool do not boast,
Thou canst not touch the freedom of my minde
With all thy charms, although this corporal rinde
Thou haste immanacl'd, while Heav'n sees good."

Comus through deceit has brought the Lady to his Palace in order to entice her with merriment. But to keep her there he has resorted to seating her in an enchanted chair from which she cannot move. The struggle between Comus and the Lady takes the form of a colloquy between the libertine and virtuous. Although the Lady upholds chastity and Comus invites her to 'bliss', their arguments are philosophical and focus our attention on the value of temperance.  

Milton had earlier stated in the lines of the Elder Brother his position concerning the contrast between the enlightened soul and one enslaved in 'his own dungeon'.   

Line 381
"He that has light within his own cleer brest           

May sit i'th center, and enjoy bright day,
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day Sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.

The Lady and Comus discuss their positions at great length; she remains spell-bound but firmly stands her ground against her tempter. 
Line 690 
"'Twill not, false traitor,
'Twill not restore the truth and honesty
That thou hast banish't from thy tongue with lies,
Was this the cottage, and the safe abode
Thou told'st me of? What grim aspects are these,
These oughly-headed Monsters? Mercy guard me!
Hence with thy brew'd inchantments, foul deceiver,
Hast thou betrai'd my credulous innocence
With visor'd falshood and base forgery,
And wouldst thou seek again to trap me here
With lickerish baits fit to ensnare a brute?
Were it a draft for Juno when she banquets,

I would not taste thy treasonous offer; none
But such as are good men can give good things,
And that which is not good, is not delicious
To a wel-govern'd and wise appetite."

Line 737
"List Lady be not coy, and be not  cosen'd
With that same vaunted name Virginity,
Beauty is nature's coyn, must not be hoorded,
But must be currant and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partak'n bliss,
Unsavoury in th' injoyment of it self.
If you let slip time, like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with languish't head.
Beauty is natures brag, and must be shown
In courts, at feasts, and high solemnities
Where most may wonder at the workmanship;"

In two of his works Blake tells that the 'soul of sweet delight' cannot be defiled, but he is not speaking of preserving physical chastity. He is speaking of the holiness of life, and the purity of sex as an act of love. Milton's Lady has probably not yet learned this for she is inexperienced, but she may be on her way to doing so.

America, Plate 8, (E 54) 
"To make the desarts blossom, & the deeps shrink to their fountains,
And to renew the fiery joy, and burst the stony roof.
That pale religious letchery, seeking Virginity,                 
May find it in a harlot, and in coarse-clad honesty
The undefil'd tho' ravish'd in her cradle night and morn:
For every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life;
Because the soul of sweet delight can never be defil'd.
Fires inwrap the earthly globe, yet man is not consumd;      
Amidst the lustful fires he walks: his feet become like brass,
His knees and thighs like silver, & his breast and head like gold."
Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 9, (E 37) 
"The soul of sweet delight. can never be defil'd,"

Visions of Daughters of Albion, Plate 3, (E 47)
"Silent I hover all the night, and all day could be silent.
If Theotormon once would turn his loved eyes upon me;            
How can I be defild when I reflect thy image pure?
Sweetest the fruit that the worm feeds on. & the soul prey'd on by woe
The new wash'd lamb ting'd with the village smoke & the bright swan
By the red earth of our immortal river: I bathe my wings.
And I am white and pure to hover round Theotormons breast."     

Friday, January 17, 2014


The challenge to the two brothers is to remove from Comus the instruments of enchantment, his cup and wand, without falling under his enchantment themselves. Since their swords would be useless against the enchanter they are supplied with 'haemony' by the attendant Spirit.
Milton's description of 'haemony' tells us that the flower grows on a plant which itself is unattractive. The benefit which Milton attributes to 'haemony' is that it can be used ''Gainst all inchantments' as was the 'moly' of Homer's Odyssey which allowed Ulysses to resit the attraction of Circe, the mother of Comus.

Wikimedia Commons
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 4
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton

Line 629 "Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,
But of divine effect, he cull'd me out;
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,
But in another Countrey, as he said,
Bore a bright golden flowre, but not in this soyl:
Unknown, and like esteem'd, and the dull swayn
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon,
And yet more med'cinal is it then that Moly
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave;
He call'd it Haemony, and gave it me,
And bade me keep it as of sovran use
'Gainst all inchantments"

Blake recognized the irony of using the attractive flower as protection from Comus because, as Damon in A Blake Dictionary tells us that, 'The plucking of a flower is an ancient symbol for sexual experience.' (Page 265). Blake had used the plucking of a flower to represent Othoon's first sexual experience in Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Perhaps Milton and Blake were implying that some knowledge of sexuality would act as an insulation against the attractions that Comus would offer to the pubescent girl and to her young brothers as well.
Visions of Daughters of Albion, Plate 1, (E 45)
"Along the vales of Leutha seeking flowers to comfort her;
And thus she spoke to the bright Marygold of Leutha's vale                                     

   Art thou a flower! art thou a nymph! I see thee now a flower;
   Now a nymph! I dare not pluck thee from thy dewy bed!

   The Golden nymph replied; pluck thou my flower Oothoon the mild
   Another flower shall spring, because the soul of sweet delight
   Can never pass away. she ceas'd & closd her golden shrine.    

Then Oothoon pluck'd the flower saying, I pluck thee from thy bed
Sweet flower. and put thee here to glow between my breasts
And thus I turn my face to where my whole soul seeks.

Over the waves she went in wing'd exulting swift delight;
And over Theotormons reign, took her impetuous course."    

In another reference to Greek mythology Blake pictured in this illustration what appears to be Artemis in the sky above the attendant Spirit and the brothers. As the moon goddess, Artemis is the female counterpart to Apollo, the sun god. Herself a virgin, her particular charge was to look after virginal maidens and women in childbirth. Confirmation of the identity of the figure in the upper part of the illustration may be made by comparing her to Blake's image for the 14th of the Illustrations of the Book of Job. To the left of the central figure is the sun and Apollo; to the right is the moon and Artemis guiding her serpent chariot. An additional image of the moon goddess appear in Blake's illustration for Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso: Illustration 7, Melancholy.
Milton was unmarried and 26 years old when he wrote Comus or A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle. Eight years later he married
Mary Powell, the daughter of a business associate. His bride was 17 years old. Mary shortly left her new home and husband and returned to her family. It was not until three years later the Mary rejoined John in London. In Comus Milton had written about issues relating to the coming of age of a young woman; he later experienced the tensions of relating to an adolescent girl who had unresolved issues of autonomy and sexuality.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


In the previous image the attendant Spirit was in a spiritual form, not material; he/she observed without being observed. In Illustration 4 we see the two brothers on either side of the Spirit. In order to interact with the brothers and warn them of the Lady's plight, the spirit becomes visible taking on the appearance of a shepherd familiar to the children. In Spirit form he overheard the conversation between Comus and the Lady. Unable to intervene directly he seeks out the brothers, becomes manifest to them, and offers to  provide them with a mysterious flower which is effective against enchantment. 
Illustration 4 shows the brothers in conversation with the Spirit appearing as their father's shepherd. The Spirit holds the 'haemony' whose protection will allow the brothers to assault Comus' lair and rescue the Lady. At the top of the picture a veiled individual rides a serpent chariot across the sky. 

Clearly the young woman has become the focus of forces which are working to transform her in some way. She is exposed to temptation from Comus who will offer an exit from the protected world of childhood into a debased sexuality. Her brothers desire to use the violence of physical force to return her to the state in which the journey  began. The attendant Spirit offers a power through which the tempter can be dispelled with undefined consequences. Unknown forces, too, are in the air with the potential for influencing the development of the young woman. 

Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Illustration 4

A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton
Line 560
[Attendant Spirit]
"I was all eare,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of Death; but O ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honour'd Lady, your dear sister.
Amaz'd I stood, harrow'd with grief and fear,
And O poor hapless Nightingale thought I,
How sweet thou sing'st, how neer the deadly snare!
Then down the Lawns I ran with headlong hast
Through paths, and turnings oft'n trod by day,
Till guided by mine ear I found the place
Where that damn'd wisard hid in sly disguise
(For so by certain signes I knew) had met
Already, ere my best speed could prvent,
The aidless innocent Lady his wish't prey,
Who gently ask't if he had seen such two,
Supposing him som neighbour villager;
Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guess't
Ye were the two she mean't, with that I sprung
Into swift flight, till I had found you here,
But furder know I not."

The attendant Spirit instructs the brothers on the use to which the ' haemony' may be put.

Line 647
"if you have this about you
(As I will give you when we go) you may
Boldly assault the necromancers hall;
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood,

And brandish't blade rush on him, break his glass,
And shed the lushious liquor on the ground,
But sease his wand;"

Blake like Milton saw the need for protection to be provided by spiritual forces in order for man to navigate the treacherous paths through a demonic world.

Milton, Plate 23 [25], (E 119)
"We were plac'd here by the Universal Brotherhood & Mercy
With powers fitted to circumscribe this dark Satanic death
And that the Seven Eyes of God may have space for Redemption.
But how this is as yet we know not, and we cannot know;
Till Albion is arisen; then patient wait a little while,
Six Thousand years are passd away the end approaches fast;
This mighty one is come from Eden, he is of the Elect,
Who died from Earth & he is returnd before the Judgment. This thing
Was never known that one of the holy dead should willing return
Then patient wait a little while till the Last Vintage is over:"

Milton, Plate 24 (E 119)
"Enitharmon wept
One thousand years, and all the Earth was in a watry deluge
We calld him Menassheh because of the Generations of Tirzah
Because of Satan: & the Seven Eyes of God continually
Guard round them, but I the Fourth Zoa am also set
The Watchman of Eternity, the Three are not! & I am preserved
Still my four mighty ones are left to me in Golgonooza
Still Rintrah fierce, and Palamabron mild & piteous
Theotormon filld with care, Bromion loving Science
You O my Sons still guard round Los." 
Might we be reminded of the gift of the Holy Spirit:
John 14
[15] If ye love me, keep my commandments.
[16] And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
[17] Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
[18] I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.


Monday, January 13, 2014


Prominently featured in Illustration 3 of Comus is a single bull or ox in the Thomas Set and a pair in the Butts set. Milton mentions the ox only to signify the time of day. Blake chooses to place the ox centrally in his illustration to allude to its use as a sacrificial animal. The myths surrounding Bacchus involve situations calling for sacrifice. Blake calls to our attention that sacrifice may be required in the mask without specifying who or what may be sacrificed.  

Comparing Illustration 3 of the Thomas and Butts sets we see that Blake make numerous changes although he maintained the same elements. The grapes are less prominent the second set and the boys look more mature. The boys' swords which lay on the ground in the first image do not appear in the second picture. The Butts illustration shows a path leading from the Lady toward her brothers. The form, size and position of the attendant Spirit is altered. Comus looks toward the brothers although in the first image he focused on the swords.

The conversation between Comus and the Lady which relates the incident of Comus encountering the brothers, is pictured by Blake in Illustration 2. We read here Comus' retelling of that event. By describing in glowing terms his meeting with the brothers, Comus convinces the Lady that he sincerely wishes to give her assistance. The Lady naively believes she will be safer with the smooth stranger than if she waits for her brothers return.

Wikimedia Commons
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 3
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton
Line 91
[To Lady] Two such I saw, what time the labour'd Oxe
In his loose traces from the furrow came,

And the swink't hedger at his Supper sate;
I saw them under a green mantling vine
That crawls along the side of yon small hill,
Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots,
Their port was more then human, as they stood;
I took it for a faƫry vision
Of som gay creatures of the element
That in the colours of the Rainbow live
And play i'th plighted clouds. I was aw-strook,
And as I past, I worshipt: if those you seek,
It were a journey like the path to Heav'n
To help you find them.  Lady: Gentle villager
What readiest way would bring me to that place?

Comus: Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
Lady: To find out that, good Shepherd, I suppose,
In such a scant allowance of Star-light,
Would overtask the best Land-Pilots art,
Without the sure guess of well-practiz'd feet. 

Comus: I know each lane, and every alley green
Dingle or bushy dell of this wilde Wood,
And every bosky bourn from side to side
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood,
And if your stray attendance be yet lodg'd,
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low roosted lark
From her thach't pallat rowse, if otherwise
I can conduct you Lady to a low
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe
Till further quest'.  Lady: Shepherd I take thy word,
And trust thy honest offer'd courtesie,
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds
With smoaky rafters, then in tapstry Halls
And Courts of Princes, where it first was nam'd,
And yet is most pretended: In a place
Less warranted then this, or less secure
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it,
Eie me blest Providence, and square my triall
To my proportion'd strength. Shepherd lead on.——

In the following passage in The Book of Urizen, Blake uses the ox in the slaughterhouse to symbolize the sorry state which man endures under the rule of his Reasoning Power or Selfhood. In contrasting selfish and selfless love in The Clod & the Pebble, a pair of cattle join the sheep as representing lives lived for others not their own ease or pleasure. Blake sees that the weak and unprotected are sacrificed to the cruelty of self-righteous desire.
The Book of Urizen, Plate 23, (E 81)
"4. He in darkness clos'd, view'd all his race,
And his soul sicken'd! he curs'd
Both sons & daughters; for he saw
That no flesh nor spirit could keep                        
His iron laws one moment.

5. For he saw that life liv'd upon death
Plate 25
The Ox in the slaughter house moans
The Dog at the wintry door
And he wept, & he called it Pity
And his tears flowed down on the winds

6. Cold he wander'd on high, over their cities              
In weeping & pain & woe!
And where-ever he wanderd in sorrows
Upon the aged heavens
A cold shadow follow'd behind him
Like a spiders web, moist, cold, & dim                      
Drawing out from his sorrowing soul
The dungeon-like heaven dividing.
Where ever the footsteps of Urizen
Walk'd over the cities in sorrow.

7. Till a Web dark & cold, throughout all                   
The tormented element stretch'd
From the sorrows of Urizens soul
And the Web is a Female in embrio  
None could break the Web, no wings of fire." 
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 32, (E 19)

"The CLOD & the PEBBLE  
Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

     So sang a little Clod of Clay,
     Trodden with the cattles feet:
     But a Pebble of the brook,
     Warbled out these metres meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight:
Joys in anothers loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite." 

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Unable to locate their sister or return to her after seeking food to sustain her, the brothers discussed her danger and her ability to protect herself. They have met, disguised as a villager, Comus who is seeking to find the girl whose singing he had heard. Blake uses his third illustration to stress the situations portrayed by various characters. Comus with his aim to decieve and tempt the young lady, walks modestly in his long robe, carrying his walking stick and politely removing his hat. The Lady sits far removed from her brothers on the edge of the forest in which she has been lost and distressed. Above her the guardian attendant Spirit hovers surrounded  by light. The brothers have found the fruit they sought but are unaware that the innocent looking villager represents a threat to the Lady's and their own innocence.
Blake creates an inconsistency by picturing the brothers harvesting grapes from the vine. It is Comus who is associated with grapes and the wine they produce. Milton specifically cites Comus as being much like his father Bacchus who is the 'god of wine, freedom, intoxication and ecstasy'. The pleasure palace to which Comus wishes to lure the Lady is a Bacchanalia.

The younger brother fears for the Lady's safety. The elder brother believes the Lady's 'Virgin purity' will be protected by her 'hidden strength': chastity. In this third illustration both brothers are oblivious to their sister's precarious position.

Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Illustration 3,Thomas Set
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton
Line 398
"You may as well spred out the unsun'd heaps
Of Misers treasure by an out-laws den,
And tell me it is safe, as bid me hope
Danger will wink on Opportunity,
And let a single helpless maiden pass
Uninjur'd in this wilde surrounding wast.
Of night, or lonelines it recks me not,
I fear the dred events that dog them both,
Lest som ill greeting touch attempt the person
Of our unowned sister.

Line 413
Eld. Bro.
My sister is not so defenceless left
As you imagine, she has a hidden strength
Which you remember not.

2 Bro. What hidden strength,
Unless the strength of Heav'n, if you mean that?

Eld. Bro. I mean that too, but yet a hidden strength
Which if Heav'n gave it, may be term'd her own:
'Tis chastity, my brother, chastity:
She that has that, is clad in compleat steel,
And like a quiver's Nymph with Arrows keen
May trace huge Forests, and unharbour'd Heaths,
Infamous Hills, and sandy perilous wildes,
Where through the sacred rayes of Chastity,
No savage fierce, Bandite, or mountaneer
Will dare to soyl her Virgin purity,"

 Blake is aware of the intensity of the struggles which take place in human minds between following the inspiration of the Poetic Genius and submitting to the Tempter. In this passage from Jerusalem we see Los struggling against Albion's Sons to save Enitharmon:
Jerusalem, Plate 17, (E 161)
"They [Albion's sons] wooe Los continually to subdue his strength: he continually 
Shews them his Spectre: sending him abroad over the four points of heaven
In the fierce desires of beauty & in the tortures of repulse! He is
The Spectre of the Living pursuing the Emanations of the Dead.
Shuddring they flee: they hide in the Druid Temples in cold chastity:
Subdued by the Spectre of the Living & terrified by undisguisd desire.   

For Los said: Tho my Spectre is divided: as I am a Living Man
I must compell him to obey me wholly: that Enitharmon may not
Be lost: & lest he should devour Enitharmon: Ah me!
Piteous image of my soft desires & loves: O Enitharmon!
I will compell my Spectre to obey: I will restore to thee thy Children. 
No one bruises or starves himself to make himself fit for labour!

Tormented with sweet desire for these beauties of Albion
They would never love my power if they did not seek to destroy
Enitharmon: Vala would never have sought & loved Albion
If she had not sought to destroy Jerusalem; such is that false   
And Generating Love: a pretence of love to destroy love:

Cruel hipocrisy unlike the lovely delusions of Beulah:
And cruel forms, unlike the merciful  forms of Beulahs Night

They know not why they love nor wherefore they sicken & die
Calling that Holy Love: which is Envy Revenge & Cruelty          
Which separated the stars from the mountains: the mountains from Man
And left Man, a little grovelling Root, outside of Himself."

Friday, January 10, 2014


Milton presents the threat represented by Comus as being handed  down to him from his parents Bacchus and Circe. The disguised Comus holds behind his back his charming wand in the form of a walking stick. The spells that he is able to cast not only change his victims into animal-headed monsters but make them unaware of the changes they have undergone.

Wikimedia Commons
Milton's Comus
Butts Set, Illustration 2
A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton
Line 61
"At last betakes him to this ominous Wood,
And in thick shelter of black shades imbowr'd,
Excells his Mother at her mighty Art, Offring to every weary Travailer,
His orient liquor in a Crystal Glasse,
To quench the drouth of Phoebus, which as they taste
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst)
Soon as the Potion works, their human count'nance,
Th' express resemblance of the gods, is chang'd
Into some brutish form of Woolf, or Bear,
Or Ounce, or Tiger, Hog, or bearded Goat,
All other parts remaining as they were,
And they, so perfect is their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely then before
And all their friends, and native home forget
To roule with pleasure in a sensual sty."

The second image in the Butts set doesn't depart much from the Thomas set in composition. The emotions portrayed display subtle differences however. Perhaps the disguised Comus is more sinister and the Lady more inclined to accept the stranger's offer. The attendant Spirit is not holding the protective haemony but attempting to warn the Lady of the danger she faces. Blake may be attempting to develop greater tension through intensifying individual characteristics.

Through his power of enchantment Comus changes his victim's human countenance into that of a brutish animal. To Blake it was losing the ability to perceive the Divine Vision which led men to become degraded. Like Milton he viewed the human form as the Image of Himself by which God had crowned his creation. Milton's Comus casts the spell through which man loses the ability to see himself as human: the vehicle in which God resides. Milton included in his poem multiple themes; it can be read superficially as a defense of chastity, or more profoundly as a defense of man's innate humanity.
An example in Blake's Milton demonstrates a way in which Blake pictures man becoming locked in his mind by "envy of Living Form, even of the Divine Vision And of the sports of Wisdom in the Human Imagination."

Milton, Plate 3, (E 96)            
"Mark well my words! they are of your eternal salvation:        

Three Classes are Created by the Hammer of Los, & Woven  

By Enitharmons Looms when Albion was slain upon his Mountains
And in his Tent, thro envy of Living Form, even of the Divine Vision
And of the sports of Wisdom in the Human Imagination
Which is the Divine Body of the Lord Jesus, blessed for ever.
Mark well my words. they are of your eternal salvation:      

Urizen lay in darkness & solitude, in chains of the mind lock'd up
Los siezd his Hammer & Tongs; he labourd at his resolute Anvil

Among indefinite Druid rocks & snows of doubt & reasoning.

Refusing all Definite Form, the Abstract Horror roofd. stony hard.
And a first Age passed over & a State of dismal woe:"