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William Blake

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William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. He was born in London to a middle-class family. He was the third of 7 children. As a child, he was already focused on imagination, the individual, and nature which are themes of the Romantic and Transcendental period. Blake said he had “visions” from a young age. At four he claimed to see God “press his head to the window.” At the age of eight Blake claimed to have seen "a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings decorating every branch like stars. His parents knew enough of his headstrong temperament that he was not sent to school and was educated at home by his mother. Later he was enrolled in drawing classes. Largely self-taught, he began writing poetry when he was twelve and was apprenticed to a London engraver at the age of fourteen.

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He was exposed to Greek and Roman sculpture, which influenced his later work Blake's marriage to Catherine Boucher remained a close and devoted one until his death. Blake taught Catherine to read and write, and she helped him to colour his printed poems. He was reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England He was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions A personal friend of Thomas Paine A rebel all of his life, Blake was arrested in Felpham in 1803 on a trumped up charge of sedition. William Wordsworth remarked : "There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott."

Illuminated books : 

Illuminated books c.1788: All Religions are One There is No Natural Religion 1789: Songs of Innocence The Book of Thel 1790–1793: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 1793: Visions of the Daughters of Albion America: a Prophecy 1794: Europe: a Prophecy The First Book of Urizen Songs of Experience 1795: The Song of Los The Book of Ahania c.1804–c.1811: Milton: a Poem 1804–1820: Jerusalem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion

‘I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s.’ : 

‘I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s.’ In this Blake is characteristically Romantic, believing in the centrality of the imagination. He believes an artist must reject the past and find his own way of doing things from within himself. Imagination vs. reason That he developed his own interpretation of Christian theology reflects the element of focus on the individual and imagination in Romantic literature. Blake relied heavily on his own ideas rather than accept those of others.

The Transcendence of the Imagination : 

The Transcendence of the Imagination Now I a fourfold vision see And a fourfold vision is given to me Tis fourfold in my supreme delight And three fold in soft Beulahs night And twofold Always. May God us keep From Single vision & Newton's sleepLetter to Thomas Butts, November 22, 1802


PROPHECY Blake deliberately wrote in the style of the Hebrew prophets and apocalyptic writers. He envisioned his works as expressions of prophecy, following in the footsteps Elijah and Milton. He envisioned himself as the living embodiment of the spirit of Milton.

America, a Prophecy (1789) : 

America, a Prophecy (1789) American War of Independence and French Revolution parts of his grand mythology in his America: A Prophecy and Europe: A Prophecy.In the first of his "Continental Prophecies" Blake explores the radical paradigms of political repression and revolt through a highly imaginative treatment of the American Revolution. While historical figures such as Washington and Paine appear, much of the symbolic and thematic weight is placed on Blake's own invented mythological figures, including "Albions Angel" and "Londons Guardian" (forces of the British government), Urizen (the god of restrictive reason and the origin of political repression), and fiery Orc (the spirit of revolt). The American Revolution is viewed as a harbinger of universal revolution, epistemological as much as political.

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Written in imitation of biblical books of prophecy, but expressing Blake's own intensely personal Romantic and revolutionary beliefs. Published as printed sheets from etched plates containing prose, poetry, and illustrations. The plates were then coloured by Blake and his wife Catherine. The work was composed in the period of radical ferment and political conflict immediately after the French Revolution (1790). The book describes the poet's visit to Hell, a device adopted by Blake from Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost. As several others of his works, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was influenced also by the mysticism of Emanuel Swedenborg.

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The two books have always been published in conjunction with each other (1789-1794). Songs of Innocence mainly consists of poems describing the innocence and joy of the natural world, advocating free love and a closer relationship with God, and most famously including Blake's poem The Lamb. Its poems have a generally light, upbeat and pastoral feel and are typically written from the perspective of children or written about them. Directly contrasting this, Songs of Experience instead deals with the loss of innocence after exposure to the material world and all of its mortal sin during adult life, including works such as The Tyger. Poems here are darker, concentrating on more political and serious themes. Many of the poems appearing in Songs of Innocence have a counterpart in Songs of Experience with opposing perspectives of the world. He believed that contraries were necessary for any sort of progress but that both were flawed, only partial ways of seeing. God is able to see the whole and is not limited by one view or the other.

The Lamb (1789) : 

The Lamb (1789) Little Lamb, who made thee?Dost thou know who made thee?Gave thee life & bid thee feedBy the stream & o’er the mead;Gave thee clothing of delight,Softest clothing, wooly, bright;Gave thee such a tender voice,Making all the vales rejoice?Little Lamb, who made thee?Dost thou know who made thee?Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:He is callèd by thy name,For he calls himself a Lamb.He is meek, & he is mild;He became a little child.I a child, & thou a lamb,We are callèd by his name.Little Lamb, God bless thee!Little Lamb, God bless thee!

The Tiger (1794) : 

The Tiger (1794) Tyger Tyger, burning bright,In the forests of the night :What immortal hand or eye,Could frame thy fearful symmetry?In what distant deeps or skiesBurnt the fire of thine eyes?On what wings dare he aspire?What the hand dare seize the fire? And what shoulder, & what art,Could twist the sinews of thy heart?And when thy heart began to beat,What dread hand? & what dread feet?What the hammer? what the chain,In what furnace was thy brain?What the anvil? what dread graspDare its deadly terrors clasp?When the stars threw down their spearsAnd water'd heaven with their tears :Did he smile his work to see?Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

The “Body of the Text” : 

The “Body of the Text” Blake’s preoccupation with integration extended to his texts themselves. His style of illuminated, hand-colored text means we can’t separate his illustrations from text, or our imaginations of his written worlds from the physical reality of how he reproduced them. “The Lamb” from Songs of Innocence is typical of one of the plates Blake produced. Notice the embedding of the words within the branches and vines (which often seem to be dying or oppressive, pressing on the words themselves as in this poem).

The Bard, a reoccurring Blake figure : 

The Bard, a reoccurring Blake figure

“The Ghost of a Flea” : 

“The Ghost of a Flea”

Blake’s Death : 

Blake’s Death Died in 1827 from an unknown disease that he called “that Sickness to which there is no name.” He continued to work on his projects all the way up to his death. Many of his unsold works were given to a man named Tatham who is thought to have destroyed many of them.


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