William Blake’s Milton: A Poem in 2 Books, like John Milton’s Paradise Regained (1671), is a short epic poem. Instead of using the more traditional pentameter, Blake wrote Milton in “fourteeners,” a long seven-beat line that he patterned after biblical verse. Milton is named for John Milton (16081674), Blake’s great seventeenth century precursor, and Blake makes Milton (or his vision of Milton) the poem’s protagonist.
The first book of Milton describes the Bard’s song and Milton’s descent from Eternity to earth. Milton has been walking in Eternity since his death, unhappy because his “Sixfold Emanation” is “scatter’d thro’ the deep/ In torment.” This sixfold emanation may represent Milton’s three wives and three daughters, but critics have suggested that it could also symbolize Milton’s writings or Milton’s hopes for social reform in England. It takes, however, the Bard’s song to motivate Milton to redeem his sixfold emanation.
The first part of the Bard’s song summarizes Blake’s myth of the Fall, a myth that is more fully developed in Blake’s The Book of Urizen (1794). This Fall is presented as a fragmentation of the original unified man (Albion) into various entities (Zoas), who are further fragmented into emanations and specters. With each division comes a corresponding contraction of the senses, and the Zoas are plunged into torment and perceptual confusion. In the midst of the chaos that is the material world, Los (the Zoa who represents the imagination) begins to build Golgonooza, the city of art.
After giving this brief account of the Fall, the Bard tells a story which appears to be patterned after Blake’s quarrel with one of his patrons, William Hayley. This...
(The entire section is 736 words.)