America: A Prophecy

by William Blake

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349

The characters of William Blake's America, a Prophecy (an epic-like poem mythologizing the American Revolution), include several historical figures and other mythological figures that are specific to Blake's mythology. The historical ones include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Joseph Warren, Horatio Gates, John Hancock, and Nathanael Greene. The poet describes them as standing on the seashore looking out onto the Atlantic in the direction of Albion (England), which is ruled by a bloody dragon.

These enumerated figures all have symbolic value. George Washington was America's first president and commander of the Continental Army. Benjamin Franklin was a prominent scientist and patriot. Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer famous especially for his pamphlet, Common Sense. Joseph Warren was a major general in the Massachusetts army who died in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Horatio Gates was also a Revolutionary War general. John Hancock was the famous first signatory of the Declaration of Independence. Nathanael Greene was a general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and a favorite officer of George Washington. Washington addresses these men on the shore, inspiring them to rebel. The Prince of Albion can see them on the shore, which inspires the prince to call his "Thirteen Angels."

The mythological characters include the virgin daughter of Urthona (whose father, Urthona, appears elsewhere in Blake's poetry as a blacksmith god). Orc is a fallen rebellious figure who is the personification of rebellion and creativity. In Blake's poem, it is Orc's fires that destroy Albion. The Prince of Albion (a personification of England) sits in a tent across the Atlantic. He is described as a dragon, and, when he sees the rebels gathering in America, he summons his "Thirteen Angels." When these angels fail to appear (having joined the side of America), he sends a plague across the sea. Orc re-routes these flames back to England, which consume the country from which it was sent.

Blake creatively mixes historical characters with his very own cast of mythological figures. Blake's use of this elaborately crafted pantheon in other poems contributes to the epic tone of America, a Property.

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