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Milton’s Eikonoklastes & Blake’s Mythic Geography: A Parallel

There is an interesting parallel between a passage in Milton’s Eikonoklastes and the way Blake conflates Biblical and English geography for mythic purposes in Milton, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem.

In his attack on Charles I as a Urizenic tyrant, Milton wrote: 1 Merritt Y. Hughes, ed., The Complete Prose Works of John Milton (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1962), II, 488.

Ireland was as Ephraim, the strength of his head, Scotland, as Judah, was his Law-giver; but over England as over Edom he meant to cast his Shoo; and yet so many sober Englishmen not sufficiently awake to consider this, like men inchanted with the Circaean cup of servitude, will not be held back from running thir own heads into the Yoke of Bondage.1

The fusion of English and Biblical geography, the mythic humanization of the nation, and the figure of the whole people as a sleeping or enchanted giant under the foot of a brutal tyrant are all elements familiar from Blake’s poetry. Some of this is attributable to the imaginative compatibility of the two writers, and also, no doubt, to their common grounding in such scriptural passages as Psalm 60:7-8: “Ephraim also is the strength of mine head, Judah is my lawgiver. / Over Edom will I cast out my shoe.”

There are, however, more specific connections between Blake’s use of allegorical geography and this passage from Milton. In Eikonoklastes, Ireland is Ephraim, and in Blake’s Jerusalem (72:23) the seven counties of Connaught are assigned to Ephraim. In Milton’s passage Scotland is Judah, whereas in Jerusalem (16:54) one of Judah’s functions is to[e] begin page 89 | back to top guard Aberdeen, Berwick, and Dumfries. Finally, in Blake, Edom is a fallen land (Milton 17:20; Jerusalem 49:43; 92:23; 96:9), but is also both the giant who must recover his lost inheritance and the land that must be transformed before the apocalypse (Marriage of Heaven and Hell 2:14-20, 3:5-6).

One hesitates to put more weight on these parallels than they will bear; however, they do point in a direction that could be fruitful in further explorations of both Blakes’s mythic geography and history in the prophetic Books, that is Milton’s historical and polemical prose and his native antecedents in the use of allegorical geography: Spenser, Drayton, Phineas Fletcher,[e] and William Browne of Tavistock.

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