(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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 American rebels—including...

(The entire section is 551 words.)