William Blake

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


Astro-Rayological Interpretation & Charts
Images and Physiognomic Interpretation

to Volume 3 Table of Contents


William Blake—Poet, Artist, Visionary

November 28, 1757, London, England, 19:45 (from a personal friend of Blake’s), 19:15, LMT (from Notable Nativities, and Isabel Pagan) or 18:45, LMT (Craswell from Varley) Died, August 12,1827, London. England.

(Ascendant and Moon in Cancer; Ascendant for the 7:45 time is very close to Leo and may be questioned; Sun conjunct Jupiter in Sagittarius with Pluto also in Sagittarius; Mercury in Scorpio; Venus in Capricorn; Mars conjunct Neptune in Leo; Saturn in Aquarius; Uranus in Pisces)

William Blake was a radical, visionary artist and poet. According to Lois Rodden, “his works [are] marked by genius, mysticism and compassion; his Prophetic Books (Sagittarius) [are] so complex and obscure that few profess to understand them. Blake dealt with profoundly mystical and archetypal themes, inspired by the combination of the fourth and sixth rays—the rays which combine to produce spiritual or religious art. The sixth ray is accentuated by the Mars/Neptune conjunction (both of them planets of the sixth ray) in Leo (ruled esoterically by Neptune). Further, Neptune is the esoteric ruler of the Cancer Ascendant.

A further accentuation of the sixth ray is seen in the conjunction of the Sun and enthusiastic Jupiter in sixth ray Sagittarius—both in the house of individual self-expression, the fifth. His fourth ray is accentuated by the fourth ray potentials of Sagittarius and Scorpio which, together, hold four planets. The Ascendant is exoterically ruled, as well, by the moon transmitting the fourth ray.

Blake’s world was a world of celestial images. He was, however, an iconoclast. This we see from an elevated Uranus in imagistic Pisces, in the house of higher visions, the ninth house.

(Consult more on Blake’s character)


A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death.

Better murder an infant in its cradle than nurse an unacted desire.
(Neptune conjunct Mars in Leo opposition Saturn.)

Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white.

Can I see another's woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief, and not seek for kind relief?
(Cancer Moon.)

Embraces are cominglings from the head even to the feet, and not a pompous high priest entering by a secret place.

Energy is an eternal delight, and he who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

Excessive sorrow laughs. Excessive joy weeps.

Exuberance is beauty.

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sun rise.

He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.

I have no name: I am but two days old. What shall I call thee? I happy am, Joy is my name. Sweet joy befall thee!

I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.
(Sun & stellium in 5th house in Sagittarius.)

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.

If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, they'd immediately go out.

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.

Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell's despair. (Venus conjunct Chiron.)

One thought fills immensity.

Prisons are built with stones of Law. Brothels with the bricks of religion.

Prudence is a rich, ugly, old maid courted by incapacity.

The foundation of empire is art and science. Remove them or degrade them, and the empire is no more. Empire follows art and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose.

The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.

The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.

The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel'd to heaven is no artist.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.

The weak in courage is strong in cunning.

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.

Those who restrain their desires, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.

To generalize is to be an idiot.

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.

Travelers repose and dream among my leaves.

What is now proved was once only imagined.

When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!

Where mercy, love, and pity dwell, there God is dwelling too.

You cannot have Liberty in this world without what you call Moral Virtue, and you cannot have Moral Virtue without the slavery of that half of the human race who hate what you call Moral Virtue.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.


William Blake (1807)William Blake (November 28, 1757–August 12, 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Though largely unrecognised during his lifetime, today Blake's work, produced in partnership with his wife Catherine, is widely known. According to Northrop Frye, who undertook a study of Blake's entire poetic opus, his prophetic poems form "what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the [English] language". Others have praised Blake's visual artistry, in particular his engravings: "[Blake] is far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced" [1]. In 1957 a small memorial was erected in memory of him and his wife [2].

Viewing Blake's accomplishments in either poetry or in the visual arts separately is to do him a disservice; Blake himself saw these two disciplines as being companions in a unified spiritual endeavour, and they are inseparable in a proper appreciation of his work. His life is, perhaps, summed up by his statement that "The imagination is not a State: it is the Human existence itself"; though this alone may not do justice to his thought.

Childhood and family
Blake was born at 28a Broad Street, Golden Square, London into a middle-class family. He was one of four children (an older brother died in infancy). His father was a hosier and his mother was chiefly in charge of her son's education. The Blakes were Dissenters and are believed to have belonged to the Moravian sect. The Bible was an early and profound influence on Blake, and would remain a crucial source of inspiration throughout his life.

From a young age Blake claimed to have seen visions. The earliest certain instance was when he was at the age of about eight or ten in Peckham Rye, London, when he reported seeing a tree filled with angels "bespangling every bough like stars." According to Blake's Victorian biographer Gilchrist, he returned home and reported this vision, and only escaped a thrashing from his father by the intervention of his mother. Though all the evidence suggests that Blake's parents were supportive and of a broadly liberal bent, his mother seems to have been especially supportive; several of Blake's early drawings and poems decorated the walls of her chamber.

On another occasion, Blake watched the haymakers at work, and thought that he saw angelic figures walking among them. It is possible that other visions occurred before these incidents: in later life, Blake's wife Catherine would recall to him the time he saw God's head "put to the window". The vision, Catherine reminded her husband, "set you ascreaming" (543, Blake Record, ed. Bentley Jr., Oxford, 1969).

Blake began engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased for him by his father (a further indication of the support Blake's parents lent their son), a practice that was then preferred to real-life drawing. Within these drawings Blake found his first exposure to classical forms, through the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, Marten Heemskerk and Albrecht Dürer (Blake Record, 422). His parents knew enough of his headstrong temperament that he was not sent to school but was instead enrolled in drawing classes. He read avidly on subjects of his own choosing. During this period, Blake was also making explorations into poetry; his early work displays knowledge of Ben Jonson and Edmund Spenser.

Apprenticeship to Basire
On the 4 August 1772, Blake became apprenticed to an engraver, James Basire of Great Queen Street, for the term of seven years. At the end of this period, at the age of twenty-one, he was to become a professional engraver.

Basire seems to have been a kind master to Blake: there is no record of any serious disagreement between the two during the period of Blake's apprenticeship. However, Ackroyd's biography notes that Blake was later to add Basire's name to a list of artistic adversaries—and then cross it out (43, Blake, Peter Ackroyd, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995). This aside, Basire's style of engraving copy iimages from the Gothic churches in London (it is possible that this task was set in order to break up a quarrel between Blake and James Parker, his fellow apprentice). It was Blake's experiences in Westminster Abbey in particular that first informed his artistic ideas and style. It must be remembered that the Abbey was a different environment entirely from its more sombre modern aspect: it was decorated with suits of armour, painted funeral effigies and varicoloured waxworks. Ackroyd notes that 'the most immediate [impression] would have been of faded brightness and colour' (44, Blake, Ackroyd). During the many long afternoons Blake spent sketching in the cathedral, he was occasionally interrupted by the boys of Westminster School, one of whom "tormented" Blake so much one afternoon that he knocked the boy off a scaffold to the ground, "upon which he fell with terrific Violence". Another, less violent tale may be related; Blake beheld more visions in the Abbey, of a great procession of monks and priests, while he heard "the chant of plain-song and chorale".

Illustration: The archetype of the Creator is a familiar image in the illuminated books of William Blake. Here, Blake depicts his demiurgic creator-figure Urizen stooped in prayer contemplating the world he has forged. The Song of Los is the third in a series of illuminated books, hand painted by Blake and his wife, known as the 'Continental Prophecies', considered by critics to contain some of Blake's most powerful imagery.

In 1779, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House, near the Strand. The terms of his study required him to make no payment; he was, however, required to supply his own materials throughout the six-year period. There, he rebelled against what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens, championed by the school's first president, Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynolds' attitude to art, especially his pursuit of 'general truth' and 'general beauty'. During an address given by Reynolds in which he maintained that the tendency to abstraction is "the great glory of the human mind", Blake reportedly responded "to generalise is to be an idiot; to particularise is alone the distinction of merit". Blake also disliked Reynolds' apparent humility, which he held to be a form of hypocrisy. Against Reynolds' fashionable oil painting, Blake preferred the Classical exactness of his early influences, Michelangelo and Raphael.

In July 1780, Blake was walking towards Basire's shop in Great Queen Street when he was swept up by a rampaging mob that stormed Newgate Prison in London. The mob were wearing blue cockades (ribbons) on their caps, to symbolise solidarity with the insurrection in the American colonies. They attacked the prison gates with shovels and pickaxes, before setting the building ablaze. The rioters then clambered onto the roof of the prison and tore away at it, releasing the prisoners inside. Blake was reportedly in the very front rank of the mob during this attack, though it is unlikely that he was forced into attendance. More likely, according to Ackroyd, he accompanied the crowd impulsively.

These riots were in response to a parliamentary bill designed to advance Roman Catholicism. This disturbance, later known as the Gordon Riots after Lord George Gordon (whose Protestant Association incited the riots) provoked a flurry of legislation from the government of George III, as well as the creation of the first police force.

In 1782 Blake met John Flaxman, who was to become his patron. In the same year he met Catherine Boucher. At the time, Blake was recovering from an unhappy relationship which had ended with a refusal of his marriage proposal. Telling Catherine and her parents the story, she expressed her sympathy, whereupon Blake asked her 'Do you pity me?'. To Catherine's affirmative response he himself responded 'Then I love you.' Blake married Catherine – who was five years his junior – on 18 August 1782 in St. Mary's Church, Battersea. An illiterate, Catherine signed her wedding contract with an 'X'. Later, as well as teaching Catherine to read and write, Blake trained her as an engraver; throughout his life she would prove an invaluable aide to him, helping to print his illuminated works and maintaining his spirits following his numerous misfortunes.

At this time, George Cumberland—one of the founders of the National Gallery—became an admirer of Blake's work. Blake's first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was also published, circa 1783. After his father's death, William and brother Robert opened a print shop in 1784 and began working with radical publisher Joseph Johnson. At Johnson's house he met some of the leading intellectual dissidents of the time in England, including Joseph Priestley, scientist; Richard Price, philosopher; John Henry Fuseli, painter with whom he became friends; Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist; and Thomas Paine, American revolutionary. Along with William Wordsworth and William Godwin, Blake had great hopes for the American and French revolution and wore a red liberty cap in solidarity with the French revolutionaries, but despaired with the rise of Robespierre and the Reign of Terror in the French revolution.

Mary Wollstonecraft became a close friend, and Blake illustrated her Original Stories from Real Life (1788). They shared views on sexual equality and the institution of marriage. In 1793's Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love and defended the right of women to complete self-fulfillment. In 1788, at the age of thirty-one, Blake began to experiment with relief etching, which was the method used to produce most of his books of poems. The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and final products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid in order to dissolve away the untreated copper and leave the design standing. The pages printed from these plates then had to be hand-colored in water colors and stitched together to make up a volume. Blake used illuminated printing for four of his works: the Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem.

As Kathleen Raine mentioned in her biography of Blake - he claimed to have learned certain artistic techniques from his brother Robert - his previously deceased brother Robert. To this day people have not been able to reproduce certain of Blake's actual processes.

Blake's "Newton" is a demonstration of his opposition to the "single-vision" of scientific materialism: the great philosopher-scientist is shown utterly isolated in the depths of the ocean, his eyes (only one of which is visible) fixed on the compasses with which he draws on a scroll. His concentration is so fierce that he seems almost to become part of the rocks upon which he sits. (1795)
Later life and career

Blake's "A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows"Blake's marriage to Catherine remained a close and devoted one until his death. There were early problems, however, such as Catherine's illiteracy and the couple's failure to produce children. At one point, in accordance with the beliefs of the Swedenborgian Society, Blake suggested bringing in a concubine. Catherine was distressed at the idea, and Blake promptly withdrew it.

Around the year 1800 Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham in Sussex (now West Sussex) to take up a job illustrating the works of William Hayley, a poet. It was in this cottage that Blake wrote Milton: a Poem (which was published later between 1805 and 1808). Over time, Blake came to dislike the relationship he had with his new patron, whom he saw as delivering commissions that were beneath his ability.

Blake returned to London in 1802 and began to write and illustrate Jerusalem (1804–1820). He was introduced by George Cumberland to a young artist named John Linnell. Through Linnell he met Samuel Palmer, who belonged to a group of artists who called themselves the Shoreham Ancients. This group shared Blake's rejection of modern trends and his belief in a spiritual and artistic New Age. At the age of sixty-five Blake began work on illustrations for the Book of Job. These works were later admired by John Ruskin, who compared Blake favourably to Rembrandt.

Blake abhorred slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. Several of his poems and paintings express a notion of universal humanity: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)". He retained an active interest in social and political events for all his life, but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in protestant mystical allegory. Blake rejected all forms of imposed authority; indeed, he was charged with assault and uttering seditious and treasonable expressions against the King in 1803 but was cleared in the Chichester assizes of the charges. (These charges were brought by a soldier (and his friends) after Blake had bodily removed him from his garden. According to a report in the Sussex county paper, "the invented character of (the evidence) was ... so obvious that an acquittal resulted." [Cited in E.V. Lucas's Highways and Byways in Sussex (1904)].) Blake's views on what he saw as oppression and restriction of rightful freedom extended to the Church. Blake was himself a follower of Unitarian philosophy. His spiritual beliefs are evidenced in Songs of Experience (in 1794), in which Blake showed his own distinction between the Old Testament God, whose restrictions he rejected, and the New Testament God (Jesus Christ), whom he saw as a positive influence.

Later in his life Blake began to sell a great number of his works - particularly his Bible illustrations, to Thomas Butts — a patron who saw Blake more as a friend rather than a man whose work held any particular artistic merit; this was almost typical of the opinions held of Blake throughout his life.

Blake's legacy
Blake had been taken severely ill in the spring and summer of 1825, wracked with shivering fits. In March 1827, his brother James died. In April the same year, Blake believed himself to "have been very near the Gates of Death"; yet despite this recognition of the coming end, he remained fiery in spirit, stating that "[I am] very weak... but not in Spirit & in Life, not in The Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever" (Keynes (ed.), The Letters of William Blake, Oxford, 1980). In late June, after an apparent return of good health, he made a journey to Hampstead; soon afterward he suffered a relapse, and John Linnell, who visited him in August, noted in his diary that William was "not expected to live".

Dante's Inferno
Even close to death, Blake's greatest mental occupation was in his art. He worked furiously on the illustrations to Dante's Inferno, and one of the very last shillings in his possession was spent on a pencil to allow him to continue sketching (Blake Records, 341).

The commission for Dante's Inferno came to Blake in 1826 through John Linnell, with the ultimate aim of producing a series of engravings. However, Blake's death in 1827 would cut short the enterprise, and only a handful of the watercolours are finished, with only seven of the engravings arriving at proof form. Even so, they are considered worthy of praise:

'[T]he Dante watercolors are among Blake's richest achievements, engaging fully with the problem of illustrating a poem of this complexity. The mastery of watercolour has reached an even higher level than before, and is used to extraordinary effect in differentiating the atmosphere of the three states of being in the poem' (Bindman, David, "Blake as a Painter" in The Cambridge Guide to William Blake, Morris Eaves (ed.), Cambridge, 2003, p. 106)
As always, it would be incorrect to see Blake's illustration of the poem as simply that: rather, the manner of illustration – as in those to Milton's Paradise Lost – has been utilised in way of critically revising or correcting the spiritual flaws of the text. In the case of Milton, Blake worked to correct Milton's 'mistake' in making Satan the central figure in the epic; for example, in Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve (1808) Satan occupies an isolated position at the picture's top, with Adam and Eve held separate below. As if to emphasise the effects of the juxtaposition, Blake has shown Adam and Eve caught in an embrace, whereas Satan may only onanistically caress the serpent, whose identity he is close to assuming.

In the case of Dante, the incompleteness of the watercolour series forces the recognition that we may not know exactly the revisions intended for this work by Blake. However, some indicators remain. Pencilled in the margin of Homer Bearing the Sword, and His Companions is: "Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost". This marks Blake's dissent from Dante's admiration for the poetic works of pagan Greeks, and for the apparent pleasurable zeal with which Dante allots punishments in Hell (demonstrated somewhat in the cantos' frequent grim humour). He also appears to be criticising Dante's apparent fealty to the 'fallen' world of feminine Nature as being a hindrance to the acquirement of a perfect imaginative state through creative union between the subject and the world they inhabit, as Frye helps to clarify:

"The material world is feminine to the perceiver; it is the body which receives the seed of [the artist's] imagination, and the works of imagination which are the artist's children are drawn from that body. ... But as the artist develops he becomes more and more interested in the art and more and more impatient of the help he receives from nature... Nature, in simpler language, is Mother Nature, and in the perfect imaginative state there is no mother. The fall of man began with the appearance of an independent object-world, [bringing about an eventual] helpless dependence on Mother Nature for our ideas." (Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1969, pp 74–75)
Yet at the same time, Blake shared Dante's distrust of materialism and the ability of power to corrupt, and clearly relished the challenge of representing the atmosphere and imagery of Dante's work pictorially.

Blake's radical beliefs
Blake was a strong libertarian, with a deep hatred of the tyranny that was rife during his lifetime. This is reflected strongly in his poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience, where he portrays upper class institutions and the Church of England as corrupt and exploiters of the weak in society. He dreamed of an idyllic England, free from corruption, which is mirrored in "The Echoing Green". However, the impending tyranny in the poem shows that even he doubted that England would be free. He was also a pioneering vegetarian.

Blake was an important proponent of imagination as the modern western world currently defines the word. His belief that humanity could overcome the limitations of its five senses is perhaps one of Blake's greatest legacies. His words, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite", (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) were seen as bizarre at the time, but are now accepted as part of our modern definition of imagination. This quote was the source of the names for both The Doors musical group and Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception.

Blake's death
Blake's grave in LondonOn the day of his death Blake remained relentlessly working on the Dante series. Eventually, it is reported, he ceased working and turned to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Beholding her, Blake is said to have cried "Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me." Having completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses; it is reported also that he spoke to his wife, telling her that he would remain with her always (Ackroyd, Blake, 389). At six that evening, he died. Gilchrist reports that a female lodger in the same house, who had been present at his expiration, said "I have been at the death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel" (Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake, London, 1863, 405).

George Richmond gives the following account of Blake's death in a letter to Samuel Palmer:

"He died ... in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ - Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten'd and he burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven" (Grigson, Samuel Palmer, p. 38).

Blake's funeral was paid for by Catherine, using money lent to her by Linnell. The affair was a modest one: he was taken five days after his death – on the eve of his forty-fifth wedding anniversary – to Dissenter's burial ground in Bunhill Fields, where his parents were also interred. Present at the ceremonies were Catherine, Edward Calvert, George Richmond, Frederick Tatham and John Linnell.

Following Blake's death, Catherine moved in to Tatham's house as a housekeeper; however, Blake would, she said, come and sit with her for two or three hours every day. She continued selling his illuminated works and paintings, but would entertain no business transaction without first "consulting Mr Blake" (Ackroyd, Blake, 390). On the day of her own death, in October 1831, she was as calm and cheerful as her husband, and called out to him "as if he were only in the next room, to say she was coming to him, and it would not be long now" (Blake Records, p. 410).

Following Catherine's death, Blake's manuscripts were inherited by Frederick Tatham, who is said to have burned several of them in a fit of religious ardour. Tatham had become an Irvingite, one of the many fundamentalist movements of the 19th century, and was severely opposed to any work that smacked of blasphemy (Ackroyd, Blake, p. 391). This is conjecture however.

Blake is now recognised as a saint in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. The Blake Prize for Religious Art was established in his honour in Australia in 1949.


British poet, painter, visionary mystic, and engraver, who illustrated and printed his own books. Blake proclaimed the supremacy of the imagination over the rationalism and materialism of the 18th-century. He joined for a time the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem in London and considered Newtonian science to be superstitious nonsense. Misunderstanding shadowed his career as a writer and artist and it was left to later generations to recognize his importance.

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
(from 'Auguries of Innocence') was born in London, where he spent most of his life. His father was a successful London hosier and attracted by the doctrines of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Blake was first educated at home, chiefly by his mother. His parents encouraged him to collect prints of the Italian masters, and in 1767 sent him to Henry Pars' drawing school. From his early years, he experienced visions of angels and ghostly monks, he saw and conversed with the angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary, and various historical figures.

At the age of 14 Blake was apprenticed for seven years to the engraver James Basire. Gothic art and architecture influenced him deeply. After studies at the Royal Academy School, Blake started to produce watercolors and engrave illustrations for magazines. In 1783 he married Catherine Boucher, the daughter of a market gardener. Blake taught her to draw and paint and she assisted him devoutly. In 1774 Blake opened with his wife and younger brother Robert a print shop at 27 Broad Street, but the venture failed after the death of Robert in 1787. Blake's important cultural and social contacts included Henry Fuseli, Reverend A.S. Mathew and his wife, John Flaxman (1755-1826), a sculptor and draftsman, Tom Paine, William Godwin, and Mrs Elizabeth Montagu (1720-1800), married to the wealthy grandson of the earl of Sandwich.

His early poems Blake wrote at the age of 12. However, being early apprenticed to a manual occupation, journalistic-social career was not open to him. His first book of poems, POETICAL SKETCHES, appeared in 1783 and was followed by SONGS OF INNOCENCE (1789), and SONGS OF EXPERIENCE (1794). His most famous poem, 'The Tyger', was part of his Songs of Experience. Typical for Blake's poems were long, flowing lines and violent energy, combined with aphoristic clarity and moments of lyric tenderness. Blake was not blinded by conventions, but approached his subjects sincerely with a mind unclouded by current opinions. On the other hand this made him also an outsider. He approved of free love, and sympathized with the actions of the French revolutionaries but the Reign of Terror sickened him. In 1790 Blake engraved THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL, a book of paradoxical aphorisms and his principal prose work. "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) The work expressed Blake's revolt against the established values of his time: "Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of Religion." Radically he sided with the Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost and attacked the conventional religious views in a series of aphorisms. But the poet's life in the realms of iimages did not please his wife who once remarked: "I have very little of Mr. Blake's company. He is always in Paradise." Some of Blake's contemporaries called him a harmless lunatic.

The Blakes moved south of the Thames to Lambeth in 1790. During this time Blake began to work on his 'prophetic books', where he expressed his lifelong concern with the struggle of the soul to free its natural energies from reason and organized religion. Although Blake first accepted Swedenborg's ideas, he eventually rejected him. He wrote THE VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION (1793), AMERICA: A PROPHESY (1793), THE BOOK OF URIZEN (1794), and THE SONG OF LOS (1795). Blake hated the effects of the Industrial Revolution in England and looked forward to the establishment of a New Jerusalem "in England's green and pleasant land." Between 1804 and 1818 he produced an edition of his own poem JERUSALEM with 100 engravings.

"Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire."
(from 'Jerusalem' in Milton, 1804-1808)
In 1800 Blake was taken up by the wealthy William Hayley, poet and patron of poets. The Blakes lived in Hayley's house at Felpham in Sussex, staying there for three years. At Felpham Blake worked on MILTON: A POEM IN TWO BOOKS, TO JUSTIFY THE WAYS OF GOD TO MEN. It was finished and engraved between 1803 and 1808. In 1803 Blake was charged at Chichester with high treason for having 'uttered seditious and treasonable expressions, such as "D-n the King, d-n all his sibjects..."' but was acquitted. In 1809 Blake had a commercially unsuccessful exhibition at the shop once owned by his brother. However, economic problems did not depress him, but he continued to produce energetically poems, aphorisms, and engravings. "The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction," he wrote.

From 1818 Blake started to enjoy the admiration of a group of young disciples. Blake's last years were passed in obscurity, quarreling even with some of the circle of friends who supported him. Among Blake's later artistic works are drawings and engravings for Dante's Divine Comedy and the 21 illustrations to the book of Job, which was completed when he was almost 70 years old. Blake never shook off the poverty, in large part due to his inability to compete in the highly competitive field of engraving and his expensive invention that enabled him to design illustrations and print words at the same time.

Independent through his life, Blake left no debts at his death on August 12, 1827. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the public cemetery of Bunhill Fields. Wordsworth's verdict after Blake's death reflected many opinions of the time: "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." Blake's influence grew through Pre-Raphealites and W.B. Yeats especially in Britain. His interest in legend was revived with the Romantics' rediscovery of the past, especially the Gothic and medieval. In the 1960s Blake's work was acclaimed by the Underground movement. T.S. Eliot wrote in his essay on Blake that "the concentration resulting from a framework of mythology and theology and philosophy is one of the reasons why Dante is a classic and Blake only a poet of genius." (from Selected Essays, 1960)


Special thanks to the Microsoft Corporation for permission to use following biographical information from Microsoft® Encarta '97:

William Blake was an English poet, painter, and engraver who created a unique form of illustrated verse; his poetry, inspired by mystical vision, is among the most original lyric and prophetic in the language.

Blake, the son of a hosier, was born November 28, 1757, in London, where he lived most of his life. Largely self-taught, he was, however, widely read, and his poetry shows the influence of the German mystic Jakob Boehme, for example, and of Swedenborgianism. As a child, Blake wanted to become a painter. He was sent to drawing school and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver. After his 7-year term was over, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy, but he rebelled against the aesthetic doctrines of its president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Blake did, however, later establish friendships with such academicians as John Flaxman and Henry Fuseli, whose work may have influenced him. In 1784 he set up a printshop; although it failed after a few years, for the rest of his life Blake eked out a living as an engraver and illustrator. His wife helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today.

Early Poetry
Blake began writing poetry at the age of 12, and his first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of youthful verse. Amid its traditional, derivative elements are hints of his later innovative style and themes. As with all his poetry, this volume reached few contemporary readers. Blake's most popular poems have always been Songs of Innocence (1789). These lyrics—fresh, direct observations—are notable for their eloquence. In 1794, disillusioned with the possibility of human perfection, Blake issued Songs of Experience, employing the same lyric style and much of the same subject matter as in Songs of Innocence. Both series of poems take on deeper resonances when read in conjunction. Innocence and Experience, “the two contrary states of the human soul,” are contrasted in such companion pieces as “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” Blake's subsequent poetry develops the implication that true innocence is impossible without experience, transformed by the creative force of the human imagination.

Blake as Artist
As was to be Blake's custom, he illustrated the Songs with designs that demand an imaginative reading of the complicated dialogue between word and picture. His method of illuminated printing is not completely understood. The most likely explanation is that he wrote the words and drew the pictures for each poem on a copper plate, using some liquid impervious to acid, which when applied left text and illustration in relief. Ink or a color wash was then applied, and the printed picture was finished by hand in watercolors.

Blake has been called a preromantic because he rejected neoclassical literary style and modes of thought. His graphic art too defied 18th-century conventions. Always stressing imagination over reason, he felt that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. His rhythmically patterned linear style is also a repudiation of the painterly academic style. Blake's attenuated, fantastic figures go back, instead, to the medieval tomb statuary he copied as an apprentice and to Mannerist sources. The influence of Michelangelo is especially evident in the radical foreshortening and exaggerated muscular form in one of his best-known illustrations, popularly known as The Ancient of Days, the frontispiece to his poem Europe, a Prophecy (1794).

Much of Blake's painting was on religious subjects: illustrations for the work of John Milton, his favorite poet (although he rejected Milton's Puritanism), for John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and for the Bible, including 21 illustrations to the Book of Job. Among his secular illustrations were those for an edition of Thomas Gray's poems and the 537 watercolors for Edward Young's Night Thoughts—only 43 of which were published.

The Prophetic Books
In his so-called Prophetic Books, a series of longer poems written from 1789 on, Blake created a complex personal mythology and invented his own symbolic characters to reflect his social concerns. A true original in thought and expression, he declared in one of these poems, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's.” Blake was a nonconformist radical who numbered among his associates such English freethinkers as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. Poems such as The French Revolution (1791), America, a Prophecy (1793), Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), and Europe, a Prophecy (1794) express his condemnation of 18th-century political and social tyranny. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794), and the dreadful cycle set up by the mutual exploitation of the sexes is vividly described in “The Mental Traveller” (circa 1803). Among the Prophetic Books is a prose work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), which develops Blake's idea that “without Contraries is no progression.” It includes the “Proverbs of Hell,” such as “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”

In 1800 Blake moved to the seacoast town of Felpham, where he lived and worked until 1803 under the patronage of William Hayley. There he experienced profound spiritual insights that prepared him for his mature work, the great visionary epics written and etched between about 1804 and 1820. Milton (1804-08), Vala, or The Four Zoas (that is, aspects of the human soul, 1797; rewritten after 1800), and Jerusalem (1804-20) have neither traditional plot, characters, rhyme, nor meter; the rhetorical free-verse lines demand new modes of reading. They envision a new and higher kind of innocence, the human spirit triumphant over reason.

Other Works
Blake's writings also include An Island in the Moon (1784), a rollicking satire on events in his early life; a collection of letters; and a notebook containing sketches and some shorter poems dating between 1793 and 1818. It was called the Rossetti Manuscript, because it was acquired in 1847 by the English poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the first to recognize Blake's genius.

Blake's final years, spent in great poverty, were cheered by the admiring friendship of a group of younger artists. He died in London, August 12, 1827, leaving uncompleted a cycle of drawings inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy.



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