Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

Milton is sprinkled with allusions to Milton’s works, although Blake does not hesitate to rework Miltonic symbols and concepts to suit his own vision. For example, Blake describes Milton in Eternity as “pondring the intricate mazes of Providence,” a phrase that recalls the mazy reasoning of the fallen angels in Paradise Lost (Book II, lines 555561). Moreover, when Milton leaves Eternity, his cometlike descent to earth recalls the description in Paradise Lost of Satan’s fall. The comparisons between Milton and his devils are not, of course, accidental: Part of what Milton does in the poem is repudiate his former Puritanism. In terms of the three classes of men described in the poem, the Elect, the Redeemed, and the Reprobate, Milton begins the poem as the Elect and becomes a Reprobate.

Traditionally, the Elect are considered saints, the Redeemed are repentant sinners who are saved, and the Reprobate are sinners who are ultimately damned. Blake employs but reworks these classes: The Satan of Milton is a member of the Elect, and Blake presents him as a hypocritical pharisee; Blake’s Redeemed live in doubts and fears and are tortured by the Elect; his Reprobates (or Transgressors) are the geniuses who act from inspiration, and they include Jesus and the prophets. According to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), the biblical Jesus has more in common with Milton’s Satan than with Milton’s Messiah, and the figure...

(The entire section is 605 words.)