So, my best intentions for a highly-structured discussion space around your encounters with Milton have been foiled (a combo of death-by-committee and the decision to move house, and previous commitments to be at Urbana University over spring break).
All the same, I’d like for us to get a bit of an informal conversation flowing before we finally come back together for our first conversation around Blake’s Milton: A Poem next week. Here’s a few thoughts / observations to throw out there and jump-start the blogging:
- I’m interested in inverting the usual questions of influence, and disrupting the linear flow that presupposes a Bloomian “anxiety of influence.” Instead of thinking about the ways in which Milton touches Blake (“I saw Milton in the Zenith as a falling star / Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift / And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, entered there”), what struck you as Blakean about Paradise Lost?
- What spaces / gaps / problems open up when you examine Blake’s illustrations to Milton, and think about the text of PL? If the imagery is moving beyond the denotative and desciptive, what, then, is it doing? I have been enjoying looking at the two versions of “Raphael Warns Adam and Eve” (the 1807 Thomas set, and the more well-known 1808 Butts set version) on the Blake archive, which is connected/related to a number of moments when Raphael is discoursing to Adam in PL Books 5-7. If you pay close attention to the iconography in the Butts version — pictured above — Raphael is gesturing to what seems to be the Tree of Life, on one hand, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (with a delightful little serpent you can see, when you zoom in on the details), on the other. However, this specific sequence of events–Raphael invoking a warning against the infamous tree–does not occur in PL (nor does it, we should note, in the account in Genesis — the warning about forbidden fruit comes from the Lord God). In Milton’s PL, the tree of knowledge comes earlier, in book IV. Raphael does warn about lots of other matters, including what seems to be a gesture towards speculating on extraterrestrial life in the solar system (“Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there / Live, in what state, condition or degree” — PL VIII: 175). If there are “other worlds” in Blake’s image, one could speak of the depth of the vista and the background landscape that unfolds upon scrutinizing the details, but also the way the tree of knowledge seems to radiate beams of light, like a sun–perhaps alluding to the solar orbs in Book VIII of PL. And this does not even begin to explore how different this image is–where Eve’s naked figure is so prominent and centered (“Meanwhile at table Eve / Ministered naked, and their flowing cups / With pleasant liquors crowned” — PL V: 444-445) — from the earlier image made for Joseph Thomas, where both Adam and Eve are seated.