Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

America is a poem less about the importance of overthrowing political tyranny (though that is one of its concerns) than it is about the importance of overthrowing the ways of thinking and perceiving that Blake associates with political as well as spiritual tyranny.

In many ways, Orc’s speech to the Angel of Albion in lines 59-75 is at the center of the meaning of the poem. In this section, Orc prophesies that he shall stamp the “stony law” of the commandments “to dust, and scatter religion abroad” (line 63), because they have served to shelter humanity from the “fiery joy” of living. This type of fire is only threatening to those (such as the Angel of Albion, and Urizen) who hide from it. Orc foresees a time when “Fires enwrap the globe, yet man is not consumed” (line 73), but in fact is transformed by the fire into a being who gleams like precious metals.

True to the spirit of Romantic poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, with whom Blake is often associated, Blake uses fire as a basic metaphor for creativity. To someone who is afraid of it, it appears destructive. To someone who is not afraid of it, it is constructive. Religion has to be overthrown, according to Orc, because it prevents people from experiencing their own fires directly.

In fact, it is clear that for Orc this creative fire is the basic essence of life. Thus, when this fire is released through the destruction of religion,...

(The entire section is 442 words.)