When still in Felpham, Blake had begun to compose in his notebook (and probably in separate drafts now lost) a group of short poems integrating his mythic structures and imagery with a more personal, often anguished, voice. A few years later, Blake wrote out in a clear hand ten poems of a similar tenor in what is now known as the Pickering manuscript, including ‘The Mental Traveller’ and ‘Auguries of Innocence’. It may have been about this time that Blake began to rise ‘in the middle of the night’ and ‘write for two hours or more’, often with Catherine Blake at his side (Smith in Bentley, Records
, 475; Gilchrist, 1.316). His renewed poetic instinct culminated in two epics in illuminated printing, Milton
, dated 1804 on their title-pages. Both evolved out of, and incorporated many passages from, The Four Zoas
manuscript. As Blake reported to Butts, these interrelated poems were written ‘from immediate Dictation … without Premeditation’. The result was a ‘Sublime Allegory’ of which Blake was ‘the Secretary’ for ‘Authors … in Eternity’ (letters, 25 April and 6 July 1803, Blake, 729–30). All three poems turn from political revolution and toward mental reconfigurations leading to biblical apocalypse. All three question conventional suppositions about imagination and reality, time and space, self and other, to entertain alternative ways of thinking and being at the core of Blake's visionary literalism.Milton
, not printed until 1810–11, follows the titular hero in a journey of self-discovery and renewal that also reconstructs the bond between Blake and his great predecessor. In the poem's second ‘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 mind and its projections into the external world. This plot is interwoven with allusions ranging from the Bible to Blake's own life, particularly the difficult relationship with Hayley. The lyric beginning ‘And did those feet in ancient time’, now well known as the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, appears in the ‘Preface’ to Milton
The illuminated book entitled Jerusalem
, the one hundred plates of which were not completed until 1820, takes for its subject all of history as a record of desire struggling for fulfilment. The cast of characters is vast, with Los (the artist's imagination at work in the material world), Jerusalem and Albion (the female and male portions of divided humanity who must be reunited), the nature goddess Vala, and Jesus playing major roles. The poem is divided into four chapters, each with a preface addressed to a different audience (the Public, the Jews, the Deists, the Christians), and concludes with a vision of consciousness, liberated and empowered, in a post-apocalyptic universe. Blake beautifully hand-coloured one complete copy of Jerusalem
, but it remained unsold at his death.