Liverpool Muse by Alan Ginsberg Albion, Albion, your children dance again Jerusalem’s rock established in the basements of satanic mills In the Sink , stone basement of City Vibrations of Vox electronic shudder thru brick & flesh, Children beautifully collared and sleeved, with tapered silk dungarees, each pubescent body thin & handsome shaking his hips, each darling daughter alone on the concrete snapping her fingers — The longhair guitarist snarls into a silver microphone & builds the drum beat to a heavy charge and screams on the high note — a circle of flesh is formed he screams claps and shudders, a circle of flesh dances round, six boys and two girls, shuffling left shuffling right hey hey, shuffling left shuffling right the Yoruba dance step come back to Mersey’s Shores — I stop writing and move my hips — the Circle is Complete. — England, ca. May- June 1965 Published in: Pete Morgan ed., C’Mon Everybody (Corgi Books, 1971), p. 39.
I have written here previously about William Blake and his vision of Albion, about the myth of Albion in British culture and about the power of the concept in the art and writings of the neo-romantics such as Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland.
I want to focus on a more recent exemplar of this fascination with the meaning and perpetuation of William Blake’s ideas. Michael Horovitz is a performance poet known for social protest in his verse: in 1969 he edited and published the collection Children of Albion- poetry of the underground in Britain (Penguin). This was at the height of the sixties counter culture and at a time of great hope for change.
In 1969 Horovitz predicted “the return of Albion’s golden age” which would be a movement following the “Blakean way.” He saw the confirmation of this prediction all round him on swinging London of the late 60s:
“Albion’s children are strongly in evidence all over the country and- most colourfully and plentifully- all over London, at work and at play in their gardens of love, where only ‘Thou shalt not’ is taboo.- in an atmosphere of their awareness, radiating a sense of community and a more open, humane and practical way of life.”
Those hopes were soon to be disappointed, but Horovitz continues to keep the dreams alive. Interviewed in 2010 by Dazed magazine, he explained that “Albion is William Blake’s name for the soul of England.” It represented, Horovitz went on, “England as internationalist; England as a joining of all nations, as the spiritual Jerusalem.” His various anthologies published since 1969 (the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Albion) have all shared this Blakean impetus for internationalism. This is perhaps well represented by his work with such artists as Damon Albarn, known for his own cross cultural musical experiments.
Horovitz regards Blake as “great grandfather William.” His thought is as urgent and relevant now as it ever was. Albion remains an inspirational concept- politically as well as artistically– and it is a theme to which I will return in posts in the near future.
For fuller details of my fiction and nonfiction writings on British folklore, see my website.