Europe a Prophecy

The Ancient of Days, frontispiece to Europe a Prophecy. This is from copy K, in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.[1]
This is from copy K, in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Plate 13[2]

Europe a Prophecy is a 1794 prophetic book by the British poet and illustrator William Blake. It is engraved on 18 plates, and survives in just nine known copies.[3] It followed America a Prophecy of 1793.


During autumn 1790, Blake moved to Lambeth, Surrey. He had a studio at the new house that he used while writing what were later called his "Lambeth Books", which included Europe in 1794. Like the others under the title, all aspects of the work, including the composition of the designs, the printing of them, the colouring of them, and the selling of them, happened at his home.[4] Early sketches for Europe were included in a notebook that contained images were created between 1790 until 1793.[5] Only a few of Blake's works were fully coloured, and only some of the editions of Europe were coloured.[6]

When Europe was printed, it was in the same format as Blake's America and sold for the same price. It was printed between 1794 and 1821 with only 9 copies of the work surviving.[7] The plates used for the designs were 23 x 17 cm in size. In addition to the illuminations, the work contained 265 lines of poetry,[8] which were organized into septnearies.[9] Henry Crabb Robinson contacted William Upcott on 19 April 1810 inquiring about copies of Blake's works that were in his possession. On that day, Robinson was allowed access to Europe and America and created a transcription of the works.[10] An edition of Europe for Frederick Tatham was the last work Blake produced, and "The Ancient of Days" was completed three days just prior to his death.[11]


The book is prefaced by an image known as "The Ancient of Days", a depiction of Urizen separating light and darkness. The poem begins with a description of the source for the vision:[12]

will shew you all alive
The world, where every particle of dust breathes forth its joy. (lines 18-19)

The poem then explains that it is about:[13]

the night of Enitharmons joy
That Woman, lovely Woman! may have dominion
Go! tell the human race that Woman's love is Sin;
That an Eternal life awaits the worms of sixty winters
In an allegorical abode where existence hath never come (lines 90-96)

The poem describes the creation of the serpent:[14]

Thought chang'd the infinite to a serpent, that which pitieth:
To a devouring flame; and man fled from its face
Then was the serpent temple form'd image of infinite
Shut up in finite revolutions, and man became an Angel;
Heaven a mighty circle turning; God a tyrant crown'd (lines 141-150)

The poem concludes with Los calling his sons to arms:[15]

But terrible Orc, when he beheld the morning in the east,
Shot from the heights of Enitharmon,
And in the vineyards of red France appear'd the light of his fury.
Then Los arose his head he reared in snaky thunders clad:
And with a cry that shook all nature to the utmost pole,
Call'd all his sons to the strife of blood. (lines 254-265)
Plate six of Europe a Prophecy, copy K. The poem envisions a world filled with suffering, with imagery connected to the politics of 1790s Britain


Europe, like many of Blake's other works, is a mythological narrative and is considered a "prophecy". However, only America and Europe were ever given that title by Blake. He understood the word not to denote a description of the future, but the view of the honest and the wise.[16] The vision within the poem, along with some of the other prophecies, is of a world filled with suffering in a manner that is connected to the politics of 1790s Britain.[17]

God in "The Ancient of Days" is a "nous" figure, a creative principle in the universe that establishes mathematical order and permanence that allows life to keep from becoming nothingness. In such a view, Jesus is seen as a Logos figure that is disconnected from the nous in that Logos constantly recreates what is beautiful. As such, Jesus, as well as the Holy Spirit, are connected in Blake's mythology to the image of the universal man as opposed to God the Father.[18] The image is also connected to John Milton's Paradise Lost in which God uses a golden compass to circumscribe the universe. Blake's version does not create Eden but instead is creating the serpent of the poem's frontispiece. The image is also connected to a vision Blake witnessed at the steps inside of his home.[19] There are parallels between the actions of women within Europe and the 1820s images titled Drawings for The Book of Enoch. The latter work describes the seduction of the Watchers of Heaven by the Daughters of Men; giants born of their union then proceed to ravage the land. Both works emphasise the dominance of women.[20]

Blake had many expectations for the French revolution, which is described in a prophetic way within the poem. However, he was disappointed when the fallen state of existence returned without the changes that Blake had hoped. To Blake, the French promoted a bad idea of reason, and he was disappointed when there was not a sensual liberation. After Napoleon declared himself emperor in 1804, Blake believed that the revolutionary heroes were instead being treated as god kings that no longer cared about freedom. He continued to believe in an apocalyptic state that would soon appear, but he no longer believed that Orc man, the leader of a revolution, would be the agent of the apocalypse. Instead, he believed that God could only exist in men, and he distrusted all hero worship.[21]

Critical response

Robinson wrote an essay about Blake's works in 1810 and described Europe and America as "mysterious and incomprehensible rhapsody".[22] Blake's fame grew in 1816 with an entry in A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland, which included Europe among the works of "an eccentric but very ingenious artist".[23]

Northrop Frye regarded it as Blake's "greatest achievement" in "a kind of 'free verse' recitativo in which the septenarius is mixed with lyrical meters."[24] According to John Beer: "The drift of the argument in Europe is to show how a Christian message that has been veiled, and cults exalting virginity, have together fostered the so-called Enlightenment philosophy which left no place for the visionary."[25]


  1. "Europe a Prophecy, copy K, object 1 (Bentley 1, Erdman i, Keynes i) "Europe a Prophecy"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  2. "Europe a Prophecy, object 13 (Bentley 13, Erdman 10, Keynes 10)"Europe a Prophecy"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  3. "William Blake Archive Update 23 April 1998". William Blake Archive.
  4. Bentley 2003 pp.122-124
  5. Bentley 2003 p. 142
  6. Bentley 2003 p. 158
  7. Bentley 2003 p. 152
  8. Bentley 2003 p. 198
  9. Bentley 2003 p. 312
  10. Bentley 2003 p. 338
  11. Bentley 2003 p. 436
  12. Bentley 2003 p. 150-151
  13. Bentley 2003 p. 151
  14. Bentley 2003 p. 151
  15. Bentley 2003 p. 152
  16. Bentley 2003 p. 130
  17. Bentley 2003 p. 150
  18. Frye 1990 p. 52
  19. Bentley 2003 pp. 150-151
  20. Bentley 2003 pp. 428-429
  21. Frye 1990 pp. 216–217
  22. Bentley 2003 qtd. p. 340
  23. Bentley 2003 qtd p. 348
  24. Frye 1990 p. 185
  25. Beer 2005 p. 82


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