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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326

"America: A Prophesy" is an epic-style poem by English writer William Blake. Blake wrote "America" in 1973 while living in England as a reflection on the American Revolution. As Blake was an accomplished illustrator, the original piece had 18 full-color images, but only four of these full-color versions survive. "America: A Prophesy" is the first of Blake's continental prophecies (so-called for their subject matter), including "Europe" and "Song of Los." The poem is divided into two parts, a brief "Preludium" and a lengthier "Prophecy."

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In "Preludium," Blake describes a daughter or Urthona bringing Orc food in a dark cavern. Blake developed a complex mythology used in much of his writings, and elsewhere, Urthona is described as a blacksmith god. Orc is a fallen, rebellious god.

In the opening of the "Prophecy" section, George Washington addresses America by pointing out the chains with which the country is bound by England. Washington, Franklin, Paine, Warren, Gates, Hancock, and Greene appear looking across the sea to England (whose the landscape is described in epic fashion and the characters mythologized). England is ridden with the blood of its prince, who is described as a dragon with glowing eyes.

The Angel of Albion (a personification of England) summons his Thirteen Angels to fight against America. These Angels, however, have come over to the side of America and so do not answer Albion's trumpet call. The Angel of Boston speaks out in protest of Albion's injustices. Albion then resorted to sending plagues over the Atlantic to America; however, Orc (the shadowy figure from the "Preludium," described as "lover of wild rebellion") sends the plague back to Albion, where sickness prevails and fires ravage the city. Urizen (elsewhere in Blake's poetry, the stern god of law and reason) is roused by the fighting and emerges from his shrine to pour snow and ice on the continent. At the poem's close, France, Spain, and Italy watch Albion smitten by plagues and its gates consumed by flames.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551

America: A Prophecy was Blake’s first attempt to present historical and contemporary events in mythological form so as to draw out their universal significance. The preludium introduces two mythological characters, the “shadowy daughter of Urthona,” who is nature in an unfruitful time, and Orc, who embodies both the life-giving return of spring and the liberating, revolutionary energy that is about to be unleashed in the world through the American Revolution. Since Orc’s birth fourteen years previously, the shadowy female has been bringing food to him. Throughout this period Orc has been chained to a rock, although his spirit soars and can be seen in the forms of eagle, lion, whale, and serpent.

Having reached the age of sexual maturity, Orc breaks free of his chains and seizes and ravishes the shadowy female. She erupts in joy, exclaiming that she recognizes him—Orc stimulates the periodic renewal of earth’s procreative power—and declares him to be the image of God that “dwells in darkness of Africa” (perhaps an allusion to Swedenborg’s belief that the Africans understood God better than the Europeans). The shadowy female then says she sees the spirit of Orc at work in America, Canada, Mexico, and Peru—places that had seen recent outbreaks of rebellion against established authority.

The poem itself begins on Plate 3. As war-clouds, fires, and tempests gather, some of the leading...

(The entire section contains 877 words.)

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