A CRUCIAL LINE IN VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION
Perhaps the most elusive while also the most significant line in Visions of the Daughters of Albion is plate 2, line 5: “Bound back to back in Bromion’s caves, terror and meekness dwell.” Blake’s full-plate illustration for this and the succeeding two lines depicts two human figures chained back to back in a cave. They are a rugged male with fear-distorted face and an utterly dejected female. Nearby, at the cave’s entrance, another male figure (clearly identified in the text as Theotormon) abjectly sits, hiding his face in his folded arms. The generally-accepted interpretation is that the bound figures are Bromion and Oothoon.1↤ 1 See Mark Schorer, William Blake: The Politics of Vision (New York: Henry Holt, 1946), p. 249; Stanley Gardner, Infinity on the Anvil: A Critical Study of Blake’s Poetry (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1954), p. 51; Harold Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument (Garden City: Doubleday, 1963), p. 112; Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake (Providence, R. I.: Brown Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 308, 437; and David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, rev. ed. (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969), p. 236. Neither the characterizations of these two nor the narrative progression of the poem, however, seems to support this reading.
An alternate and, in my opinion, more plausible interpretation is that the two bound figures are, indeed, terror and meekness. Thus juxtaposed, masculinity terrified and femininity meekly submissive constitute the very principle upon which Bromion maintains his position as slave-holder. Throughout the poem Bromion is tyrannical and blatantly assertive. Quite the contrary of a prisoner subdued and shackled in his own habitat, he has exercised his power to bind terror and meekness together, thus subjecting them totally to his will and purposes.
As indicated by plate 2, line 22, and the illuminated portion of plate 4 (where the chain about her ankle appears loosened), Oothoon is free to hover about the hopeless, weeping, deafened Theotormon at the entrance to the cave, presenting the case for liberation as persuasively as she can. In the light of this liberated activity on her part, the explanation that Oothoon is bound meekly back to back with Bromion appears incongruous with regard to both characterization and narrative continuity. The binding of terror and meekness in Bromion’s caves becomes, then, symbolically the oppression of mind and spirit from which Oothoon seeks to liberate the enslaved daughters of Albion—and from which Blake seeks to liberate us.
Roland A. Duerksen, Professor of English at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), has published articles on British and American Romantic writers—including several on Blake. His books include Shelleyan Ideas in Victorian Literature (Mouton, 1966) and editions of various works by Shelley.