Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In Milton: A Poem, Blake continues the argument with Milton that he had begun in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790). In that book, Blake had identified the Christ of Paradise Lost (1667, 1674) with the restrictive values of reason and conventional morality, and Milton’s Satan, whom Christ casts out, with the passionate energies of humankind, which to Blake were the sources of creativity. Blake thought that, although Milton was a great poet, he had put himself in service of a bad theology, and this had divided him against himself. In Milton: A Poem, which was written more than one hundred years after Milton’s death, Milton is in heaven but unhappy. He decides to return to earth to redeem his errors and be reunited with his “sixfold emanation,” the feminine aspect of himself, which is still wandering in torment in the earthly sphere. Historically, the emanation represents Milton’s three wives and three daughters; symbolically, they are the aspects of his creative imagination that he repudiated in his earthly life.
Milton’s decision to return to earth is prompted by his hearing of the Bard’s Song, a key passage that occupies Plates 3 to 13 of this forty-three-plate, two-book poem. It is based on an episode in Blake’s life, when he was living at Felpham under the patronage of William Hayley. Hayley urged Blake to pay more attention to earning a living, to put his artistic talents in the service of the...
(The entire section is 868 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
William Blake composed this brief epic poem to explain Christianity to a troubled England. Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton before him wrote on that theme, but Blake created a far more personal and highly original myth. As he saw it, England’s Christianity traded supernatural spirituality for scientific rationality. Blake thought scientific rationality, or what he called natural religion, would lead to commercial imperialism, dehumanizing mechanization of work, and worldwide wars. One may say that he was right. He blamed natural religion on John Milton’s Puritanism with its orthodoxy, dualism, hypocritical moral virtue, militancy, and bondage to law.
Blake wrote Milton to correct the errors of this religion, which overvalued reason, undervalued love, and lacked any concept of the Holy Spirit. In his domestic life, Milton was tormented by the sinister aspects of female will. In Paradise Lost (1667, 1674) he blamed the Fall on Adam’s adoration of Eve and depicted their love as dangerous and lustful. Milton’s Messiah reminded Blake of Job’s Satan, and Blake thought Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Milton saw man after the Fall struggling under law in fear of punishment until the Last Judgment. Blake’s epic follows that cycle of fall, struggle, redemption, and apocalypse. For Blake, the Fall was caused by an usurpation of reason by emotion, and redemption liberates man from laws of...
(The entire section is 1761 words.)