The Glasgow Review Issue 4

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Swa Smæte Gold: Material Purgation and Spiritual Refashioning in Old English Visions of Judgment

Christopher Fee

Purification by fire is a familiar Christian allegory, and manifestations of this concept appear in very many Old English texts; I am especially interested in instances which employ the language and symbolism of metallurgic purification. Such manifestations are part of a long pre-Christian and Christian tradition which mystically equates the physical with the spiritual, and which finds, in the practice of metallurgy, a metaphorical representation of the purging of sin from the soul 1. The Old English verse Elene is a notable case in point. Focusing on the fire of judgment scene in Elene, and drawing upon eschatological material from Christ III, Phoenix, and related texts, I will examine how spiritual refashioning — or transmutation — on Doomsday is a process of production, if you will, with semantic, metaphoric and thematic resonances with actual metallurgical processes of purification.

The Old English verse Elene on one level seems merely another retelling of the invention of the cross, and, for the most part, it follows the source texts rather closely 2. The closing passage, however, (which describes the purgation of all souls on judgment day) is not from the sources, and indeed, at first glance, does not seem much related to the body of the text 3. It is, however, unquestionably meant to be seen as a part of the poem 4. The relationship between this final section and the body of the poem has never been adequately explained, and it is with just such a relationship that this paper is concerned. I find there to be a direct correlation between the experience of the souls in the fire of judgment — described in the final scene — and that of Judas, the duplicitous leader of the Jews, who — in the body of the narrative — is purged from sin and recast into a new, purer form through his own temporal “furnace” 5. The burning away of sin achieved through the heat of the fire of judgment, the purification of the soul which parallels the purification of metal in the furnace — through which both emerge likewise untainted and transmuted into new, purer forms — is meant to both echo and explicate the “purification” of Judas in the pit. Just as gold and silver are melted, purified, and cast into the desired mould, Judas, like the souls in the fire of judgment, is “refashioned”, or transmuted, after he has been purged of his impurities through his torment in the pit.

Central to both Judas’s experience and the fire of judgment episode is a concept of purgation, or a sort of spiritual “cleansing”, which is represented metaphorically by an image of an actual physical process of purification. In the case of Judas, his spiritual transformation is marked as complete when he is “cleansed” through the “bath” of baptism:

Swylce Iudas onfeng
æfter fyrstmearce fulwihtes bæð,
ond geclænsod wearð Criste getrywe,
lifwearde leof 6.
(Elene ll. 1032-1035)

[Likewise Judas after due time received baptism and was cleansed, faithful to Christ, dear to the lord of life.]

“Geclænsod”, (the past participle of “geclænsian” 7) here meaning “cleansed” or “purified”, is a key term in this context, because though Judas’s conversion seems an obvious echo of that of Constantine, the means by which they are converted differ radically, as does the language the poet uses to describe each case. Though the poet just mentions that Constantine was true to the will of the lord after his baptism — “ond †æt forð geheold / on his dagana tid, / dryhtne to willan” (ll. 192-193) — Cynewulf specifically mentions that Judas was “geclænsod”, or “purified”. While Constantine’s baptism is “cleansing” in only the most symbolic sense, Judas has literally had the sin expunged from his soul through his purgation in the pit.

Though it has been argued that Judas’s “cleansing” in the pit is a figural representation of the Catechumen’s preparation for baptism 8, we must not be too quick to equate a forced period of confinement and deprivation with the self-imposed mortification of the faithful 9. Although Judas becomes “geclænsod” through a form of baptism, it is a baptism “by fire”, if you will, prefigured by Constantine’s baptism by water and prefiguring the “baptism” by fire described in the closing passage.

As if it weren’t plain enough in the highly symbolically charged environment of baptism, the verb “geclænsian” is clearly marked as a spiritually loaded term in Elene’s last speech to Judas before she has him cast into the pit; she needs to find the cross in order to “cleanse” it, so that it may be of use to mankind:

...þæt ic hie syððan mæge
geclænsian Criste to willan,
hæleðum to helpe...
(Elene ll. 677-679)

[So that then I may cleanse it according to the will of Christ, as an aid to men...]

It is quite clear in this context that “geclænsian”, while certainly invoking a literal reference to “cleaning” on one level, more importantly evokes a spiritual “cleansing” as well. Though the cross is undoubtably dirty after centuries in the ground, it, like any holy relic or place, must be “cleansed” and blessed after defilement.

This same sense of “cleansing” or “purification” is also central to the episode of the fire of judgment. “Geclænsod”, the term with which the poet explains the nature of Judas’s spiritual transformation, is also the exact term used to describe the souls of the dead after they have emerged from the fire of judgment:

Hie asodene beoð,
asundrod fram synnum, swa smæte gold
þæt in wylme bið womma gehwylces
þurh ofnes fyr eall geclænsod,
amered ond gemylted.
(Elene ll. 1308-1312)

[They shall be purified, set apart from sins, like pure gold, which in the smelting is all purged of every foulness by the fire of the furnace, purified and melted.]

The use of “geclænsod” by the Elene poet in this eschatological context seems to suggest that the purgation undergone by the souls in the fire of judgment is a form of transmutation closely related to Judas’ own spiritual “cleansing”. I can say this with some assurance since, of the literally hundreds of occurrences of “geclænsian” and its various forms (there are nearly fifty occurrences of “geclænsod” alone), all but a relative handful refer to a kind of spiritual “cleansing” akin to those which I’ve described from Elene, including several references to both baptismal and allegorical metallurgic purification; I have included some typical examples 10.

Se man bið geclænsod fram his unclænum synnum þurh þæt halige fulluht...
(ÆHom 4 242)
[The man is cleansed from his unclean sins through the holy baptism...]
...beo geclænsod from þæm mæstum scyldum...
(Ps 18.12)
[be cleansed from the greatest crimes...]
Gyf we nu wilnieð, þæt ure sawlen syn geclænsode fram synne fulnysse...
(Alc (Warn 35) 138)
[If we now desired (it), that our souls be cleansed from sin by baptism...]
Se fullwuht ðone mon geclænsað from his synnum...
(CP 54.427.6)
[The baptism cleanses the man from his sins...]
Ðurh swylcne smið ond þurh swylce tol, geclænsað ure Drihten...
(Eluc 1(Warn 45) 45)
[Through such a smith and through such a tool, our Lord cleanses...]
...he mæg...ðone synfullan fram his synnum geclænsian.
(ÆcHom I. 17(App) 187.3)
[...he may...purge the wicked (one) from his sins.]

The use of “geclænsod”, then, to describe this sort of metaphorical purification in both the case of Judas and that of the souls on judgment day, serves to underscore the relationship between the two episodes in the context of the poem: In the case of Judas, the purgative nature of his spiritual transmutation is explicated; in the case of the fire of judgment scene, its relationship to the body of the narrative is made manifest.

Thus, through this relationship, the nature of Judas’ transformation is further illuminated by the poet’s explanation of the process through which the souls on judgment day become “geclænsod”: The souls of men will be purified through the flames, “melted”, as it were, in order to be “recast” or “re-fashioned” — transmuted — into new and more beautiful forms. It is interesting to note that here the poet refers to an actual process of production, in terms that, unlike “geclænsian”, are sometimes used literally: “asodene” and “amered”, particularly, help to further develop this spiritual analogy to actual metallurgic processes of purification and production.

“Asodene”, from the verb “aseodan”, means “purified” or “refined”, but the implication is a purification by seething or boiling 11. There are only a handful (5-10) of occurrences of the various forms of this verb throughout the corpus, and several of them, like those of “geclænsian”, refer to a spiritual or metaphorical “seething”. An interesting parallel can be found in the related form “seoþeð”, which occurs in the description of the ravaging earth-destroying flame in Christ III ; here this term is ambivalent, referring as it does both to an act of actual physical destruction on the last day — as opposed to in the fire of judgment on Doomsday — and one of spiritual purification. The meaning in this context is usually taken as “seeth” or “smelt”:

Seoþeð swearta leg synne on fordonum,
ond goldfrætwe gleda forswelgað,
eall ærgestreon eþelcyninga 12.
(Christ III ll. 994-996)

[The dark flame will smelt the sins in the corrupted (ones), and coals will devour all the ancient treasure of kings.]

“Aseoðan”, however, can also refer to a literal process of material production, specifically in the context of the refinement of metal, as in this example from the laws of Alfred and Guthrum:

...ealle we lætað VIII healfmearcum asodenes goldes...
(LawAGu 2)
[...all we will eight half-marks of pure gold...]

“Amered”, which is the past participle of “amerian” — a relatively well-attested verb (30-50 occurrences in various forms) — also translates “purified” or “refined”, and is a term generally used with regard to molten metal 13. “Amerian” is of key importance to this examination for two reasons: first, because it most often (quite possibly more than 25 times) appears in scenes of “spiritual metallurgy” clearly analogous to the fire of judgment scene in Elene; second, because the majority of these scenes are renderings of one of several scriptural passages which clearly resonate with the metaphorical analogy between spiritual transformation and metallurgic refinement. Two of the most common scriptural references containing forms of “amerian” are Psalms 12:6 and 66:10 14, I have included an example of each reference (I certainly could have included several of each, but these are quite typical):

>Gesprec drihtnys gesprec clæne sylfur fyr ameryd eorðan geclænsud sufunfealdlice...
(PsGLC (Wildhagen) 11.7)
[The words of the Lord (are) pure, (like) silver refined by fire in the earth, purified seven times...]
Forþon þu acunnudyst us god mid fyre us amerarydyst swa swa mid fyre bið ameryd sylfur...
(PsGLC (Wildhagen) 65.10)
[For you, God, tested us; you refined us with fire, just as silver is purified by fire...]

It is significant that the words of God, like God himself, are in and of themselves “clean”; they are compared to that which has been “cleansed”, but they are inherently pure and do not require any process of purification. The souls of men, however, like raw silver or gold, must be purged in the heat of the furnace to approach this divine level of purity.

It would be profitable to discuss briefly two passages from the Phoenix at this point. The Phoenix would merit mention in any discussion of spiritual transmutation in Anglo-Saxon literature, both because it is commonly accepted that the self-immolation and rebirth of the bird in the poem is meant to represent just that, and because the fire imagery cannot but suggest some metaphorical connection with the fire of judgment. Moreover, the Phoenix is particularly relevant to this discussion as it contains two instances of “amerede” — both of which are exactly analogous to those which I have just discussed — within the space of a hundred lines; further, the first instance of “amerede” occurs in a passage which interprets the metaphor of the phoenix in the eschatological terms of the fire of judgment:

Ðær þa lichoman leahtra clæne
gongað glædmode, gæstas hweorfað
in banfatu þonne bryne stigeð
heah to heofonum. Hat bið monegum
egeslic æled þonne anra gehwylc
soðfæst ge synnig, sawel mid lice
from moldgrafum seceð Meotudes dom
forhtafæred. Fyr bið on tihte,
æleð uncyste. þær þa eadgan beoð
æfter wræchwile weorcum bifongen,
agnum dædum. þæt þa æ þelan
sind wyrta wynsume mid þam se wilda fugel
his selfes nest biseteð utan.
þæt hit færinga fyre byrneð,
forsweleð under sunnan ond he sylfa mid,
ond þonne æfter lige lif eft onfehð
edniwinga. Swa bið anra gehwylc
flæsc bifongen fira cynnes
ænlic ond edgeong, se þe his agnum her
willum gewyrceð þæt him Wuldorcyning
meahtig æt þam mæþle milde geweorþeð.
þonne hleoþriað halge gæstas,
sawla soðfæste song ahebbað
clæne ond gecorene, hergað Cyninges þrym
stefn æfter stefne, stigað to wuldre
wlitige gewyrtad mid hyra weldædum.
Beoð þonne amerede 15 monna gæstas,
beorhte abywde 16 þurh bryne fyres 17.

(Phoenix ll. 518-545)

[There the bodies, clean from vices, will walk glad-hearted, and spirits will return to their bony vessels while the holocaust mounts high to the heavens. For many, fearful heat will be kindled when each single being, righteous and sinful, soul with body, proceeds from out of earthen graves to the judgment of the Lord, aghast with fear. Fire will be on the advance; it will set light to wickedness. There the blessed, because of their time in exile, will be attired in their works, their own deeds: these are those noble and delightsome herbs with which the wild bird encompasses his own nest so that it suddenly bursts into fire and burns up beneath the sun and himself with it; and then after the flame he recovers life anew. Just so shall each one of humankind be attired in flesh, peerless and rejuvenated, who through his own will works it here that the mighty King of heaven is gracious to him at that conclave. Then holy spirits, souls steadfast in truth, will cry aloud and raise up song and, pure and elect, praise the King’s majesty, voice upon voice, and ascend into glory handsomely herb-bedecked with their good deeds. The souls of men, then, shall be purified and brightly refined by the holocaust of fire.]

Wickedness will be consumed by the flames, as the old bird’s aged flesh was; but the righteous, clothed in their good deeds as the bird was balmed by its herbs, will be born again to new and spotless flesh, just as the phoenix was reborn. The metaphor is succinctly explicated by the penultimate and ultimate lines of this passage — by the fire of judgment the souls of men shall be purified — “amerede” — as silver is purified in the furnace, or as the phoenix is born anew from the ashes of its pyre. In his discussion of the eternal joys of heaven the poet once again harkens back to the purgative process through which the righteous became worthy of paradise:

Ðus reordiað ryhtfremmende
manes amerede in þære mæran byrig...
(Phoenix ll. 632-633)

[Thus discourse the righteous-acting (ones), purged of guilt, in that glorious city...]

The saved have been purged of sin, purified through the heat of the fire, and so, like the phoenix, enjoy rebirth.

It is clear from such references to “spiritual smithing” (as it were) that the purgation and transmutation of the soul — especially a soul weighed down with sin, or “lead” — is an arduous and painful process. In this sense the experience of Judas in the pit is certainly parallel to that of the souls in the fire of judgment. Just as gold must be cast upon the fire to purge it of impurities, “swa” also must souls be on doomsday. This tradition of equating the material labour of the smith with the spritual exertion of the individual soul is an ancient one; it is important to stress, however, that in the final sequence the “smith” is Christ the judge, unless we perceive of the fire of judgment as a continuous enactment of an eschatological present, as Graham Caie has suggested. According to this paradigm, both Judas and the souls on Judgment Day serve to underscore the responsibility of all Christians to purge themselves of sin in the present moment; each is responsible for his or her own personal transformation 18. Whatever the agency involved, after gold is purified and melted, it is indeed recast into whatever form the goldsmith chooses; this is likewise true of the souls which emerge from the fire. Just as Judas, after his cleansing, became “leof gode” (l. 1047), so do the souls emerge transmuted through the heat of God’s spiritual forge; their sin has been burned away, and they have been reshaped into new forms which are angelic in aspect: “For(an hie nu on wlite scina( englum gelice” (ll. 1319-1320) [Henceforth their faces shine like unto angels].

We have then in this two-step process of purification and refashioning a definite parallel between the spiritual experience of Judas in the pit and the experience of the souls of all mankind in the fire of judgment. It is only through the spiritual “forge” of the pit that Judas is, first, “geclænsod”-- “cleansed”--of sin, and then refashioned into the form of the Christian bishop Cyriacus 19; similarly, it is through the “ofen” of the fire of judgment that the souls on judgment day first “asodene beo(”-- “shall be purified”-- and then are recast to be “englum gelice”-- “like unto angels”. These two transformative processes are clearly analogous, and it is equally clear that this analogy is founded upon an allegorical image of metallurgic purification and production.

The relationship between Judas’s spiritual transformation and that of the souls in the fire of judgment clarifies the textual significance of both experiences by analogy. The fire of judgment scene is prefigured by Judas’s experience, and the philological and metaphorical relationship between these two transmutations brings this final episode from the periphery into the center of the narrative. Further, the purgative and transmutative nature of the fire of judgment serves to explicate the means of allegorical “metallurgy” by which Judas’s spiritual identity is first “cleansed” and then “recast”.

Judas’s transmutation serves as an example of the temporal purgation and transformation through which every soul should persevere. Judas serves in the capacity of an “every-sinner”, as it were, and the relationship between his experience and that of the souls in the fire of judgment serves to underscore the urgency and immediacy of transmutation: it is meant to be a regular and ongoing process, and not one to be put off until judgment; in fact, it is those very souls which have labored most diligently in this life which will feel least the heat of the flames on Doomsday.


1 - It is impossible to read far into the literature concerning ancient metallurgical practices and the spiritual significance attributed to them without encountering discussions of alchemy. My interest, however, does not lie with alchemy per se, although an examination of it and its roots does help to illuminate the related traditions in which I am interested. "Alchemy" is simply one model for understanding the relationship between the physical and the spiritual, between the literal and the metaphorical, which I wish to explore. For purposes of convenience and technical accuracy, I will consistently refer to this relationship-- insofar as it is concerned with issues of destruction and reformulation-- as "transmutation". The most common misconception about alchemy-- and, indeed, about the transmutative traditions in general-- is that the end purpose thereof is the physical transformation of a base metal into gold. There is a germ of truth buried within this misconception, but it must be stressed from the onset that transmutation is, first and foremost, a spiritual practice; that is, it has to do with the nature of the soul. Transmutation, as a philosophy, is inextricably bound up with the actual practice of metallurgy, to be sure; but to acknowledge this is not at all the same as to admit that physical transmutation was the primary end of these practices. Indeed, the very fact that many of the ancient cultures which adhered to tenets of transmutation practiced sophisticated metallurgical techniques is weighty evidence to the contrary. The roots of this tradition of transmutation lie hidden in the mists of time; it might be even more accurate to say "these traditions", as there is no reason to believe that all of the various manifestations represent one long and unbroken chain of knowledge and ritual. That these many traditions do have points of convergence seems certain; less certain, however, is why so many cultures in so many epochs should draw such similar conclusions about the natures of physical and spiritual transformation, and about the relationship of each with the other. There have been many attempts to explain this "universality" of transmutation; the two most significant schools of thought are the anthropological, most notably developed by Mircea Eliade, and the psychological, which was explored by C.G. Jung. We have in these two interpretations two opposing views as to the reasons for this "universal" accidence of transmutative philosophy. In brief, the anthropological school posits a common experience of the material world which is projected inwards onto issues of spiritual transformation, while the psychological school theorizes a universal drive for spiritual transformation which is projected outwards onto a convenient material metaphor. Whatever the reasons for the consistent nature of these patterns of transmutative philosophy, it is certain that these traditions are both widespread and durable; their durability, at least in part, might be attributable to the ease with which transmutation has been assimilated into various systems of religious thought.
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2 - Michael J. B. Allen & Daniel G. Calder. Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry: The Major Latin Texts in Translation. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1976. In their introduction to the sources for the OE Elene, the authors state: "A large number of Latin texts containing the various narrative details still survive and, for a number of reasons, Cynewulf's source was undoubtedly based on the stem of that tradition...the source of Elene must have closely resembled three Latin versions...(but) scholars usually hold that the Elene is most similar to the Acta Quiriaci." With the exception of the homiletic addition with which Cynewulf ends his version, Elene follows closely the text of The Acts of Saint Cyriacus which Allen and Calder include in their work.
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3 - The poem opens in the sixth year of the reign of the emperor Constantine. His army meets with a much greater host of Huns and Goths on the banks of the river Danube, and Constantine is nearly overcome by despair. On the eve of battle he falls into a slumber, and he dreams that an angel appears unto him and bids him to look to the skies for the sign by which he will conquer--what he sees, of course, is the sign of the cross. At daybreak he orders a cross made and carried before his troops, and the Romans are, in fact, victorious. Needless to say, Constantine is quickly converted and baptized, and he sends his mother Elene to Palestine to recover the true cross. She goes eagerly, and upon her arrival she meets with a delegation of Jews, whom she charges to lead her to the cross; the wise men of the Jews, led by a man named Judas, claim ignorance, though they know very well where it is. Finally, Elene casts Judas into a "dry pit" for seven days and seven nights, without food or water. At the end of this period Judas readily converts, confesses his sin, and leads Elene to the cross, which he himself unearths twenty feet under the ground. Judas is baptized and becomes a bishop; he later brings the nails from the cross to Elene, who promptly has them made into a bit for the bridle of her son. The poem ends with a seemingly unrelated homiletic passage, and it is at this point that the author markedly diverges from his sources; this passage describes doomsday and the fire of judgment, and contains the runic signature of Cynewulf.
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4 - When the narrative ends on l. 21 of folio 132b with the word "finit", a new section numbered XV begins (the narrative of the invention of the cross itself makes up sections I-XIV). This final section contains the aforementioned closing passage, which describes doomsday and the fire of judgment, and which contains the runic signature of Cynewulf. When this section XV ends on l. 6 of folio 133b with the word "amen", it is immediately followed by a part of the prose life of St. Guthlac, without section numbering (See Krapp XL). Both the numbering and poetic nature of this passage earmark it as a part of the larger narrative work.
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5 - Judas's "cleansing" seems to me to be a figural linchpin of sorts, in that it binds together and helps to clarify several different levels of transformation which recur throughout the poem, including conversion, baptism, salvation, purgation, and damnation. The central role, however, of Judas's experience is as an explication and prefiguration of Cynewulf's description of the day of judgment: Such prefiguration draws this description into the narrative; in turn, the fire of judgment episode both explicates and validates the means of spiritual "refashioning" by which the tainted material which was Judas is recast in the spiritual mold of Christianity. See Daniel G. Calder, "Strife, Revelation, and Conversion: The Thematic Structure of Elene" English Studies 53 (1972): 201-210. Calder discusses the poem in terms of recurring thematic cycles. Each succeeding episode in the poem is one of a series of "concentric" rings, and each echoes and refines the spiritual message. Calder sees Judas's experience in the pit as twofold-- literal and figural. Literally, it is "the final and most effective device which Elene has at her disposal"; figurally, this "entombment" is "a symbolic parallel to Christ's burial" (205-206). John P. Hermann points out that the flaw in Calder's analogy is that Christ and the cross are both "entombed" through the agency of God's enemies, while Judas is cast in the pit at the command of Elene, who is an agent, presumably, of God's will.
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6 - George Philip Krapp, ed. The Vercelli Book. Vol. II of ASPR. NY: Columbia UP, 1932. All citations from Elene are from Krapp; all translations are the author's.
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7 - Joseph Bosworth & T. Northcote Toller. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. Page 380.
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8 - Catherine A. Regan, "Evangelicalism as the Informing Principle of Cynewulf's Elene" Traditio 29 (1973): 27-52. Regan argues that Judas's experience in the pit is a figural representation of the Catechumen's preparation for baptism. She describes Judas's ordeal in the terms of the early Church liturgy concerning baptism; Elene's figural leading of Judas to "see the light" is, to Regan, representative of the liturgical process which led to the sacrament of baptism (35). To Regan, Elene's discipline of Judas takes the form of an "inverted passion" (35). Regan likens Judas's privation to the pre-baptismal fast of the Catechumen (43). Regan's reading of Judas is literal in the sense that a new convert to the early Church would, indeed, undergo a process of purgation prior to baptism, but it is figural in that it represents "the conversion of a soul to the Christian faith" (45).
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9 - As John P. Hermann points out, "torture in the name of a Higher Truth is not the same as fasting voluntarily chosen."See Allegories of War: Language and Violence in Old English Poetry. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1989. Page 108. Hermann takes issue with Regan on two points which are of primary importance: The first has to do with the physical nature of what Hermann terms "torture" (105); the second concerns the involuntary nature of Judas's conversion (108). Regan states that the relationship between Elene and Judas "is emblematic of the relationship of the Church with its members. There is mutual need" (31). According to this model, Elene, the Church, needs the faith and obedience of Judas, the unconverted; in return Judas needs the "prodding" of Elene to see the light and seek salvation (31). Hermann questions Regan's reading of Elene's role as the Church, and of Judas's "need" for physical torture: "is 'prodding' the right word for seven days in a pit without food or drink? If the literal treatment of Judas and the Jews is seen as primarily symbolic, perhaps such diction is acceptable. But it proves dangerous to move so quickly to a symbolic level that justifies torture as a service to the victim" (105).
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10 - All statistical and textual references to appearances of terms in the OE corpus are from the Concordance to OE (insert citation).
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11 - Bosworth-Toller, page 53.
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12 - George Phillip Krapp and Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Exeter Book. Vol. III of ASPR. NY: Columbia UP, 1936. All citations from Christ III are from Krapp & Dobbie; all translations are the author's.
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13 - Bosworth-Toller, page 37.
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14 - Others include Malachi 3:3, Numbers 31:22 and Zechariah 13:9.
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15 - See Blake's note on 'amerian' (p. 83)
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16 - See Blake's note on 'abywan' (p. 83)
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17 - N. F. Blake, ed. The Phoenix. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1964. All citations from the Phoenix are from Blake; all translations are the author's.
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18 - See Graham D. Caie, The Judgment Day Theme in Old English Poetry. Publications of the Department of English, University of Copenhagen. Michael Chesnutt, Graham D. Caie, Lis Christensen and Niels Davidsen-Nielsen, eds. Copenhagen: Nova, 1976. In this case, the responsibility for the act of transmutation falls to the individual, who is "smith" of his own soul, as it were; see page 112: "[Man] has no power over wyrd 'fate', the destiny of the world, but he has freewill concerning his own destiny. The burden is placed firmly on the shoulders of the individual, for the apocalyptic fire can either purify or a time in the future, ordained by fate, the holocaust will come, but the destiny of the individual is not ruled by that point in time, but by every moment in the present." In this life, then, the individual acts as the agent of his own transmutation; at the time of the apocalyptic fire, however, it is too late for "self-fashioning", and Christ will test the product of each soul's spiritual labor in the heat of the fire of judgment.
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19 - The renaming of Judas in ll.1058-1062 seems especially significant in this context.
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