Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows (from Jerusalem)

by William Blake

Original Language English

Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine:
Fibres of love from man to man thro Albions pleasant land.
In all the dark Atlantic vale down from the hills of Surrey
A black water accumulates, return Albion! return!
Thy brethren call thee, and thy fathers, and thy sons,
Thy nurses and thy mothers, thy sisters and thy daughters
Weep at thy souls disease, and the Divine Vision is darkend:
Thy Emanation that was wont to play before thy face,
Beaming forth with her daughters into the Divine bosom
Where hast thou hidden thy Emanation lovely Jerusalem
From the vision and fruition of the Holy-one?
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One; forgiving all Evil; Not seeking recompense!
Ye are my members O ye sleepers of Beulah, land of shades!

-- from The Complete Illuminated Books, by William Blake

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Reading Blake's poetry, for me, is like trying to recall a dream that's dense with meaning and feeling. You wade into it knowing you won't understand all the layers of meaning. In fact you'll probably get lost somewhere along the way. But that's almost beside the point. The goal is really to immerse yourself and see what your skin drinks in.

And, of course, you don't get the full effect without Blake's amazing artwork. It's worth going to the library to check out a book of his illuminated work just to get a deeper sense of its power.

Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me.
Lo! we are One...

This poem is God's address to Albion. In Blake's complex mythology, the giant Albion is the embodiment of Britain during its era of colonialism and early industrialism. Blake's God is calling the British nation (you could just as easily substitute the United States or the western world today) back to its humanity. The Divine Vision has become "darkend" or largely forgotten. The nation has become a "sleeper of the land of shadows," overcome with "black waters."

To return to ourselves, to awaken, God declares that we must, through love, reconnect to ourselves, to our fellow man, and to the living beauty of the earth. He gives us a line that echoes:

Fibres of love from man to man thro Albions pleasant land.

Jerusalem, in Blake's mythology, is a woman who is the "Emanation" of Albion. But so long as Albion remains asleep, she is hidden. Jerusalem might be understood as the radiant potential of a nation, when it throws off it's blindness, its lethargy, its hatreds and greed. She is the hidden, divine heart of the nation.

We each have an individual goal of spiritual awakening and truly opening our hearts. But Blake reminds us that nations too represent a collective spiritual journey that cannot be ignored. Spiritual awakening is a political act. In fact, it is the fundamental political act because your awareness naturally filters outward into the wider community.

Recommended Books: William Blake

The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse The Complete Illuminated Books Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment William Blake: The Complete Poems Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry
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Awake! awake O