“For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease”

In honour of American Independence Day, here is one of my favourite William Blake passages, from America: A Prophecy.

The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent:
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America’s shore,
Piercing the souls of warlike men who rise in silent night.
Washington, Franklin, Paine, and Warren, Gates, Hancock, and Green
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albion’s fiery Prince.

What I love about these lines, quite apart from the language itself, is the way Blake turns the Revolutionary War into a mystical, epic event – like something from Norse legend – with “Washington, Franklin, Paine, and Warren, Gates, Hancock, and Green” presented as legendary heroes, or even mythical archetypes, raised up in opposition to “Albion’s fiery Prince”.

Small wonder that, as Blake puts it a few lines further down (in a line which also functions as a caption for the illustration to this page of his poem; see here for the preceding page with the lines quoted above):

The King of England looking westward trembles at the vision.

As well he might!

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5 Responses to “For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease”

  1. J. Random Hermeneut says:

    the way Blake turns the Revolutionary War into a mystical, epic event

    Like trying to turn a fried egg into chateaubriand.

    If I were to honour American Insurrection Day I’d choose this doggerel from Kipling:

    ‘Twas not while England’s sword unsheathed
    Put half a world to flight,
    Nor while their new-built cities breathed
    Secure behind her might;
    Not while she poured from Pole to Line
    Treasure and ships and men—
    These worshippers at Freedoms shrine
    They did not quit her then!

    Not till their foes were driven forth
    By England o’er the main—
    Not till the Frenchman from the North
    Had gone with shattered Spain;
    Not till the clean-swept oceans showed
    No hostile flag unrolled,
    Did they remember that they owed
    To Freedom—and were bold!

  2. J. Random Hermeneut says:

    “For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease”

    Oh the irony just kicked me in the teeth. But that’s Blake – visionary poet, false prophet.

  3. John H says:

    Oh the irony just kicked me in the teeth.

    Fair point. But then, that’s why I keep referring to it as the Revolutionary War – in the hope that if we keep reminding the US that they started as revolutionary opponents of tyranny (albeit what Marxists would call “bourgeois” revolutionaries), they might remember that instead of electing leaders who behave like… well, you fill in the blanks. The poem (which, incidentally, proceeds to go a bit bonkers over the following pages) does unintentionally highlight the gap between the revolutionary, almost anarchic force that Blake (mis-)saw and how the US has actually behaved.

    The Kipling is fun, though I’m very aware that the US might feel inclined these days (with some justice) to turn it back round at Europe, say.

  4. D.S.Ketelby says:

    Irony: see also ‘John the Painter’, eighteenth century pro-American terrorist.

    The British dockyards, Aitken [aka ‘John the Painter’] believed, were vulnerable to attack, and he was convinced that one highly motivated arsonist could cripple the Royal Navy by destroying ships in the harbours (says Wikipedia).

    John the Painter, though a lone operator, was prolific enough to give the authorities the impression that a band of terrorists was on the loose in England.

    Important not to over-react, I say… though British history 1780-1830 is an object lesson in the curtailment of liberty in response to interal and external threats.

  5. Rob says:

    … that’s why I keep referring to it as the Revolutionary War – in the hope that if we keep reminding the US that they started as revolutionary opponents of tyranny (albeit what Marxists would call “bourgeois” revolutionaries), they might remember that instead of electing leaders who behave like… well, you fill in the blanks.

    Oh, but John, revolutions are just so hard. And it’s so comfortable here in front of my computer monitor…

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