One of Blake’s two final epics, Milton follows the titular hero in a journey of self-discovery and renewal. In the poem’s first “Book,” John Milton returns from heaven to the mortal world and unites with the imagination through the person of William Blake. Together, they set out to reconfigure the relationship between a living poet and a great predecessor.
In the second and final book, Milton unites with his feminine aspect, Ololon, in progress towards the apocalyptic overcoming of divisions between the sexes, between the living and the dead, and between human consciousness and its alienated projections into the external world. This plot is integrated with expansive references and allusions that range from the Bible to Blake’s own life, particularly the difficult relationship with his patron William Hayley. Portions of The Four Zoas, Blake’s long manuscript poem, are repeated (often with little revision) in Milton.
Blake etched forty-five plates for Milton in relief, with some full-page designs in white-line etching, between c. 1804 (the date on the title page) and c. 1811. Six additional plates (a-f) were probably etched in subsequent years up to 1818. No copy contains all fifty-one plates. The prose “Preface” (Plate 2) appears only in Copies A and B. Plates a-e appear only in Copies C and D, Plate f only in Copy D. The first printing, late in 1810 or early in 1811, produced Copies A-C. Blake retained Copy C and added new plates and rearranged others at least twice; the volume was not finished until c. 1821. Copy D was printed in 1818. As a partly masked white-line inscription on the title page suggests, Blake may have originally planned to write twelve “Books” for Milton.
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