KAI WOODWARD explores the influence of William Blake’s poetry on the fifth instalment of the award-winning action-adventure game
Gaming and poetry. You wouldn’t usually think they mix, would you? Well, I’m here to convince you otherwise!
Capcom’s 2019 release ‘Devil May Cry 5’ is a videogame I’ve played a lot recently and the
spin-off is it has given me an interest in poetry (WARNING – spoilers ahead).
The poetry of Romantic poet William Blake features heavily in the fifth instalment of the ‘Devil May Cry’ series. From the outset, the importance of trees and nature is fed to us in the quote “and it grew both day and night,/Till it bore an apple bright” from Blake’s poem ‘A Poison Tree’. The presence of the demonic Qliphoth, a tree that feeds on human blood and then bears a fruit that will allow a demon to gain tremendous power upon eating it, is significant and is part of the reason the protagonists join together to defeat the main villain in the game. As this line comes from ‘A Poison Tree’, it suggests that the tree, and indeed the villain, are a poison that must be eradicated in order to save humanity and stop the baddie destroying humanity in the process.
From Infant Joy to Proverbs of Hell
Speaking of our three protagonists, poetry plays a significant role in the backstory of one of them called ‘V’. For anyone who hasn’t played the game, V is a character that we know very little about until later in the game when he is revealed to play an important supporting role. He is always found with his familiars nearby - the panther known as Shadow, who acts as a fierce protector of her master, and the deep blue, wisecracking eagle-like bird known as Griffon, who attacks from the sky. V’s other familiar, Nightmare, is only ever seen during gameplay when you summon him whilst playing as V and is an immense, powerful demon that causes great amounts of destruction.
V is an avid fan of William Blake’s poetry, often reading aloud pieces of Blake’s work to other characters from the book he carries around with him. From introducing himself to Dante with “I have no name/I am but two days old” (‘Infant Joy’) to reciting the lines “he who desires but acts not breeds pestilence” (‘Proverbs Of Hell’), the written word of Blake holds great significance when considering V, as well as who he is in relation to the villain, Urizen.
Later, we discover that both V and Urizen are both the humanity and demon heritage of the twin brother of another of our protagonists, Dante. V and Urizen came into existence when Vergil, Dante’s twin, separated his human and demon sides into two so that he could live on and gain the power that he so desperately craved. This event is what triggered Urizen, Vergil’s demonic DNA made into its own separate being by the katana his father gave him as a child. This created the tree Qliphoth, in order to grow the apple that would give him what he has desired since his father died under mysterious circumstances and his mother was killed in an attack on his and Dante’s childhood home when the twins were both only eight years of age.
We also learn through the accompanying manga for ‘Devil May Cry 5’, ‘Visions of V’, that the book V carries around is a book of poems that belonged to Vergil as a child. Despite the fact that Vergil grew to view his human side as weak (something evident in his appearance in ‘Devil May Cry 3’), this book of poems written by a mere human is precious and is the one possession he owned that his twin brother never took possession of or claimed as his own when they were children, because he had proudly written his name on it. The works of Blake are so important to him, in fact, that during the flashback scene in the game where we see him stabbing himself with his Yamato to separate his demon and human sides he recites lines from the poem ‘Earth’s Answer’, despite the fact that he is in great pain and could easily die from stabbing himself if his plan to separate himself into two hadn’t worked. It is evident to me that he is grounding himself through the pain when he spits out the lines “heavy chain/That does freeze my bones around”. This is the last he will feel of his humanity once his demonic blood is the only thing that runs through his veins and turns him into Urizen, leaving the embodiment of his humanity behind and, quite literally, in the dirt.
Going back to their roots
And lastly, we come to the scene where the two beings join together once more and return to the true form of Vergil. With Urizen defeated by Dante and too weak to fight anymore, V kneels on Urizen’s chest and stabs him with his cane and says these following words from Blake’s ‘Love And Harmony’: “While thy branches mix with mine,/And our roots together join”. I found this quotation of poetry to be the most powerful and impactful given what we have learned about Vergil, Urizen, and V throughout the game. V’s and Urizen’s roots have finally come together once more and they have returned to the form that nature had intended; one whole being. Vergil.
And so, in conclusion, the presence of William Blake’s poetry in ‘Devil May Cry 5’ enriches not only the plot, but also the characters. The use of poetry from the very beginning of the game is a tool that has created a new experience for gamers and demonstrates perfectly why the two mediums fit so well together.
Written by Kai Woodward