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Last Updated on August 16, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

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America: A Prophecy is an epic-style poem by English writer William Blake. Blake wrote America in 1793 as a reflection on the American Revolution. As Blake was an accomplished illustrator and engraver, the original piece had eighteen full-color images, but only four of these full-color versions survive. America: A Prophecy is the first of Blake's continental prophecies and is followed by Europe and The Song of Los. The poem is divided into two parts, the brief "Preludium" and the lengthier "A Prophecy."

In "Preludium," Blake describes the Daughter of Urthona bringing Orc food in a dark cavern. Urthona is described as a blacksmith god; Orc is a fallen, rebellious god. Urthona and Orc are figures in Blake's complex mythology, and each appears in several of his works.

In the opening of "A Prophecy," George Washington addresses America by pointing out the chains which bind the country to England. Washington, Franklin, Paine, Warren, Gates, Hancock, and Greene look across the sea to England, whose the landscape and personages are described in epic fashion. England is soaked 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 resorts to sending plagues over the Atlantic to America. However, Orc, a "lover of wild rebellion," sends these plagues back to Albion. Urizen, the stern god of law and reason in Blake's pantheon, 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 as Albion is smitten by plagues and flames.


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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 American rebels—including George Washington, Tom Paine, and Benjamin Franklin—gather together. Washington makes a speech warning of the dangers the colonists face, and as he finishes, King George III and the British government—referred to as the Guardian Prince of Albion, or Albion’s Angel (Albion is the ancient name of England)—appear to the rebels as a fiery dragon rising up from England. However, this apparition is countered by the appearance of Orc over the Atlantic Ocean. In Plate 6, in one of the most impressive passages in all of Blake’s work, Orc announces the imminent outburst of freedom at all levels: political, spiritual, and cosmic.

Albion’s Angel responds by denouncing Orc as a “Lover of wild rebellion, and transgressor of God’s law.” Orc replies that he is the “fiery joy” of life itself, which Urizen (the fallen god of reason in Blake’s mythology and similar in function to the God of the Old Testament) imprisoned at the proclamation of the Ten Commandments. Now these commandments are to be abrogated.

In Plate 9, Albion attempts to rally support from his “Thirteen angels” (the colonial governors), but they refuse to respond to his call. “Boston’s Angel” makes a speech in which he refuses to continue obeying an unjust system. In Plate 13, war breaks out and the British suffer defeats. Albion’s Angel responds to these reversals by dispatching a deadly plague to America, but driven by the flames and fiery winds of Orc, the plague recoils upon the sender. The effects on England are devastating. Soldiers desert, rulers sicken, and priests are overthrown. In Plate 16, Urizen weeps as he beholds his world crumbling. For twelve years he manages to restrain the energies of Orc, until Orc breaks free once more in the French Revolution. The thrones of Spain and Italy shake; the restrictive moral law is burnt up by Orc’s fires and a new age begins.