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

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.

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