William Blake, Romantic Comments on Milton's Satan

Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which he engraved in the early years of the French Revolution (circa 1790-93), repeatedly inverts the conventional hierarchies that place Heaven over Hell and angels above devils. It features a “devilishly” subversive reaction to Milton’s epic account of humankind’s temptation and fall in Paradise Lost.

      Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
       And being restraind, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire.
       The history of this is written in Paradise Lost, & the Governor or Reason is call'd Messiah.
       And the original Archangel, or possessor of the command of the heavenly host, is calld the Devil or Satan, and his children are call'd Sin & Death
         For in the Book of Job, Milton's Messiah is call'd Satan. >> note
         For this history has been adopted by both parties.
         It indeed appear'd to Reason as if Desire was cast out; but the Devil's account is, that the Messiah fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.* * *

Note. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.

— From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (ca. 1790–93)


© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page    
Home