William Blake (1757-1827): Poet, Artist & Engraver


This Helpfile is designed to introduce some of the major works by William Blake (1757-1827). Blake is one of the major Romantic poets, whose verse and artwork became part of the wider movement of Romanticism in late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century European Culture. His writing combines a variety of styles: he is at once an artist, a lyric poet, a mystic and a visionary, and his work has fascinated, intrigued and sometimes bewildered readers ever since. For the nineteenth century reader Blake's work posed a single question: was he sane or mad? The poet Wordsworth, for example, commented that there "is no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in his madness which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott" and John Ruskin similarly felt that Blake's work was "diseased and wild", even if his mind was "great and wise".. In the Twentieth century, however, following W.B. Yeats's three volume edition of his works, Blake has been recognised as a highly original and important poet, artist and writer, and as a member of an enduring tradition of visionary artists and philosophers, an individualist, a libertarian, and an uncompromising critic of orthodoxy and authoritarianism..

Blake's work can be difficult at times, mainly because the reader is offered Blake's visions in Blake's own terms. Blake draws on a highly powerful, but essentially personal, mythological system of his own devising, but one that also draws on a variety of mythological, poetic and philosophical sources. On this, Blake himself remarked that he had to "create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's." In part also, what Blake seeks to express can only be presented in terms of vague abstractions and allusions, with a cosmic perspective on issues of faith, religion, philosophy and belief, and this must also mean that the reader has to work hard. Yet the effort is worth it. Blake is a revolutionary and visionary artist and poet, and his work represented a decisively new direction in the course of English Poetry and the Visual Arts.

Blake's works range from the deceptively simple and lyrical style of the Songs of Innocence and Experience, through speculative works such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, to the highly elaborate visionary and apocalyptic style of America, The Four Zoas, Milton and The Book of Urizen. I have tried to represent each of these styles, although inevitably the longer works have had to be presented in abbreviated form. Shorter poems are presented with brief commentaries, but the longer pieces have an accompanying page of introductory notes. There are also brief accounts of Blake's Life and Times, 'Blake the Artist', 'Blake and English Poetry', and on 'Blake's Thought'. Please browse through in any way which you find helpful.

These Hypertext pages are based on a Helpfile created by Richard Dover.
HTMreaLisation and maintenance by Medwyn Jones
This page still under construction -last modified 03/10/95