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1. The Crested Cock
Blake’s obscurities are not to be resolved by guesses, however inspired; in almost every case there is a key that fits the lock, which opens easily to the right combination. One puzzle which no-one so far as I know has solved is “the crested Cock” who in Milton 28: 24 (K. 515) terrifies the Spectres into incarnation. The passage is:
They contend with the weak Spectres, they fabricate soothing forms.In my forthcoming book I wrote as follows:
The Spectre refuses, he seeks cruelty: they create the crested Cock.
Terrified the Spectre screams & rushes in fear into their Net
Of kindness & compassion, & is born a weeping terror.
Or they create the Lion & Tyger in compassionate thunderings:
Howling the Spectres flee: they take refuge in Human lineaments.
It is hard to know what was in Blake’s mind in this image of the People of Dreams frightened into generation by the crowing of a cock, image of resurrection; perhaps the folk belief that the dead must return to their graves at cock-crow, whether Hamlet’s kingly ghost or the three sons of the Wife of Usher’s Well: ‘Then up and crew the red, red cock/ And up and crew the grey.’ Another, and perhaps more likely, source is the cock of Odin, described in a passage quoted by Macpherson in his Introduction to the History OF Great Britain and Ireland: ‘A cock, with a crest of gold, crows every morning in the presence of the Gods. He awakes the heroes to battle before Odin the father of armies. They rush, armed and clothed, to the field and slay one another with mutual wounds. These deaths, however, are only temporary. The power of Odin revives the slain.’ If this fine image lies behind Blake’s ‘crested cock’ the myth of the specters is again brought into the context of reincarnation.
Since writing this I have come upon another interesting passage relating to the cock, which Blake might have seen, for it occurs in the first volume of Thomas Taylor’s Plato (1804), p. 65. It is an extract from Proclus’ Dissertation on Magic, quoted by Taylor in his notes to the First Alcibiades:
. . . There are many solar animals, such as lions and cocks, which participate, according to their nature, of a certain solar divinity; whence it is wonderful how much inferiors yield to superiors in the same order, though they do not yield in magnitude and power. Hence, they report that a cock is very much feared, and as it were reverenced, by a lion; the reason of which we cannot assign from matter or sense, but from the contemplation alone of a supernal order: for thus we shall find that the presence begin page 10 | ↑ back to top of the solar virtue accords more with a cock than with a lion. This will be evident from considering that the cock, as it were, with certain hymns, applauds and calls to the rising sun, when he bends his course to us from the antipodes; and that solar angels sometimes appear in forms of this kind, who, though they are without shape, yet present themselves to us, who are connected with shape, in some sensible form. Sometimes too, there are daemons with a leonine front, who, when a cock is placed before them, unless they are of a solar order, suddenly disappear; and this, because those natures which have an inferior rank in the same order, always reverence their superiors.