America: A Prophecy

by William Blake

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The themes of English poet William Blake's America: a Prophecy include rebellion and patriotism. Blake highlights these themes using personification.

Blake, born in England in 1757, lived to see the American Revolution and used his poetry to mythologize the much-dramatized event. The poem includes a host of Blake's mythological figures, as well as historical ones. First, the daughter of Urthona brings food to Orc. The former is a zoa (one of four incarnations of Albion, the primordial man) that represents creativity and inspiration. Orc is a fallen figure that represents the spirit of rebellion. Thus, the daughter of the embodiment of creativity is feeding rebellion. Blake uses epic symbolism to depict creativity as (literally) feeding rebellion in America.

Rebellion, personified by the figure of Orc, is described as fiery and uncontrollable. Nothing can quench rebellion's flames—not even the plague sent by Albion. Rebellion also has the power to attract; the Thirteen Angels (personifications of the Thirteen colonies) ignore the trumpet call from Albion (England), instead taking their stand in America. The angels are described as "swift as fire" with "flaming lineaments." This fiery imagery links these angels to Orc and marks them as rebellious figures. The Angel of Boston addresses the group, inspiring them to abandon their obedience to England. George Washington addresses his group of compatriots standing on the shores of the Atlantic in a similar way. Collectively, Orc, the Angel of Boston, and George Washington symbolize rebellion.

The theme of patriotism is best manifest by the individuals who stand on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean looking toward the Albion in the east (Blake's landscape is heavily mythologized, and the group is able to see the dragon prince across the ocean). Washington speaks to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Joseph Warren, Horatio Gates, John Hancock, and Nathanael Greene. The group discusses how they are enchained by Albion (England) which is ruled by a bloody dragon prince with glowing eyes. Blake features in his poem historical figures who are hallmarks of patriotism (John Hancock was the original signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine was a revolutionary pamphleteer, and several of the others were accomplished soldiers).

Using dramatic language and complex mythological characters, Blake portrays patriotism and the spirit of rebellion (personified by Orc) as able to break the chains binding America to England.

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