chapter  2
19 Pages

Texts and Contexts

As we have seen, Ezekiel was ‘among the captives by the river of Chebar’, one o f the Israelites carried into captivity in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 598 B.C.; as a representative o f an oppressed people, Ezekiel was a poet-prophet who was keeping alive a sense o f national identity and encouraging a spirit o f resistance. The parallel with Gray’s Bard is clear, even without the connection through the Raphael painting; and writers o f the Romantic period did not hesitate to draw upon the Old Testament as source material parallel to their own experience. Tom Paine, for instance, writing during the American War o f Independence, described George III as ‘the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh o f England’.1 If George III is Pharaoh, then the American colonists manifestly occupy the same place as the children o f Israel: their struggle is as noble and just, and they are led by a second Moses in George Washington. In America: A Prophecy (the first o f his works to be so called) Blake portrayed Washington as speaking to his friends, ‘the souls o f warlike men who rise in silent night’; Ore, Blake’s symbol o f revolution in the material world, emerges at this point in a welter o f O ld and New Testament images. N ight turns to morning, ‘The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up’; the slave grinding at the mill is exhorted to run out into the field; ‘the bones o f death’ (a reference to the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37) ‘Reviving shake, inspiring move; breathing! awakening!’ (PI.6, 1.4) while ‘Empire is no m ore’ and ‘now the Lion & W olf shall cease’ (from Isaiah 11). Ore, who promises these, also affirms that

every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life; Because the soul o f sweet delight can never be defil’d. Fires inwrap the earthly globe, yet man is not consum ’d; Amidst the lustful fires he walks; his feet become like brass, His knees and thighs like silver, Sc his breast and head like gold.