Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385

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,...

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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.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442

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, deserts will blossom. Those seeking “virginity,” a term Blake does not use literally but understands as an innocent enjoyment of life’s pleasures, “May find it in a harlot” (line 69). Orc’s basic principle is that “every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life” (line 71). There are no isolated holy temples; everything that lives is a holy temple.

In view of such a high principle, the destruction that Orc unleashes may seem at first glance to be contradictory, but a closer examination shows that it is not Orc but the Angel of Albion who is responsible for this destruction. Orc does not create the plagues that rack London and Bristol; he merely deflects them from attacking the colonies. The Angel of Albion and his charges pay the price for trying to destroy the creative spirit of others.

The poem is called America because it is the revolt of the American colonies, its creative spirit, that receives Orc’s attention. The revolution that the poem foresees at its end, when Orc frees himself again, is a much larger revolution, however: one that will free the human spirit throughout the world.

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