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

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."

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