William Blake

William Blake

Born: 1757. Died:1827.


- Imagination is the Divine Being in every person.

- All division is contrary to the infinite imagination (the body is not distinct from the soul).

- Divisions, which emanate from the Fall (master/servant, rich/poor, male/female) hold some people in bondage; thus, humankind's fallen vision has produced the exploitation, oppression, and tyranny manifested in class stratifications, poverty, slavery, child labor, sexual discrimination, restrictive laws, and wars.

- Imagination, unifying and infinite, supersedes reason, divisive and finite.

- Rationalism is limited to time, space, sequential operations, natural causality, and measurements.

- Science and industry reduce the universe to a vast machine and one unalterable law.

- Empiricism limits knowledge to sensory perception; life is revealed to imaginative vision and not to the corporeal eye.

- Orthodox religions and deism enslave humankind to a system that promises future rewards or punishments, a dogma that controls human minds.

- Eternity is a condition in which no divisions exist; in order for human kind to regain this innocence, it must rediscover Paradise, an act of the poetic genius or imagination.


A British poet, painter, visionary mystic, an outstanding figure in what later became known as romanticism, and engraver, who illustrated and printed his own books.

Blake was born in London, where he spent most of his life. His father was a successful London hosier who encouraged Blake's artistic talents. Blake was first educated at home, chiefly by his mother. In 1767 he was sent to Henry Pars' drawing school. During this time he also studied prints and plaster casts to acquire the language of high art.

At the age of 14, Blake was apprenticed for seven years to the engraver James Basire. His main task was to draw the Gothic tombs of Westminster Abbey. Gothic art and architecture influenced him deeply.

In 1779 he began to study in the Royal Academy Schools and soon after to exhibit watercolours on historical and biblical subjects in Royal Academy exhibitions.

In 1783 he married Catherine Boucher, the daughter of a market gardener. Blake taught her to draw and paint, and she assisted him devoutly.

He developed a method of making line prints with added colour that he used to accompany some of his own writings: he published his Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), with handwritten text and handcolored illustrations, done by a process he called 'illuminated printing'. Reading the mystical writings of Swedenborg, Bohme and others and using their teaching with his understanding of Christianity and of the revolutionary propositions debated in his country and put into practice across the Channel, he developed his own religious and philosophical system, expounded and illuminated in books such as The Book of Thel (1789), America; A Prophecy (1793), Urizen and Europe: A Prophecy (1794), all published by himself in this manner.

Through artist friends such as Flaxman and Fuseli, Blake became part of a circle of educated people who helped to publish his early poems. He also associated with politically progressive men and women such Tom Paine, William Goodwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Between 1800 and 1816 he produced a great number of water-colours illustrating parts of the bible and of Milton. He also developed his own version of the medieval technique of tempera painting as a means of making large, independent prints on biblical, Shakespearian and other subjects, taking only three or four prints from tempera on board and then adding line and color by means of ink and watercolors.

These impressed no-one when he exhibited the results in 1809. At the age of 65 he commissioned illustrations for the Book of Job (1821-26) and watercolors for Dante's Divine Comedy (1824-27).

Blake never shook off his economic poverty, which was in a 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.

He died on August 12, 1827, and was buried in an unmarked grave at the public cemetery of Bunhill Fields.

Blake has recorded that from his early years, he experienced visions of angels and ghostly monks and that he saw and conversed with the angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary, and various historical figures. In the "Prophetic Books", Blake expressed his lifelong concern with the struggle of the soul to free its natural energies from reason and organized religion.

Thought eccentric, even mad, because of his fierce and at times inelegant variations on formal themes derived from ancient art, from his especial hero Michelangelo whose work he knew from engravings, and from medieval and sometimes Eastern art, partly because of his singular rhetoric and elaborate private symbolism, most of all for his compulsion to teach the world anew about good and evil, Blake was largely forgotten until Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites recognized in him an inspired, inspiring rebel.

It is in the 20th century that he was hailed as a genius and a soothsayer, a forerunner of 'flower-power' and other campaigns for an alternative society based on primitive principles close to human physical and spiritual needs. His example has influenced several British artists, especially in the Neo-Romantic phase, and has also powered modern English poetry.

Major Works of William Blake

- All Religions Are One, c.1788
- America, a Prophecy, 1793
- An Island in the Moon, 1784-5
- The Book of Ahania, 1795
- The Book of Thel, 1789
- The Book of Urizen, 1794
- Continental prophecies, 1793-1795
- Europe, a Prophecy, 1794
- The First Book of Urizen, 1794
- The Four Zoas, 1797
- The French Revolution, 1791
- Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804–1820
- Jerusalem, 1804
- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1793
- Milton a Poem, c.1804–c.1811
- Poetical Sketches, 1783
- Songs of Experience, 1794
- Songs of Innocence and of Experience, 1789
- There Is No Natural Religion, c.1788
- Tiriel, 1789
- Visions of the Daughters of Albion, 1793

Quotes from William Blake

- "Human nature is the image of God." (from "Annotations to Lavater's 'Aphorisms on Man", 1788)

- "I am astonish'd how such Contemptible Knavery and Folly as this Book contains can ever have been call'd Wisdom by Men of Sense, but perhaps this never was the Case and all Men of Sense have despised the Book as Much as I do." (from "Annotations to Bacon's 'Essays'", 1789)

- "A truth that's told with bad intent
   Beats all the Lies you can invent." (from "Auguries of Innocence", 1789)

- "A Robin Red breast in a Cage
   Puts all Heaven in a Rage." (from "Auguries of Innocence", 1789)

- "If the Sun and Moon should doubt,
   They'd immediately Go out." (from "Auguries of Innocence", 1789)

- "To See a World in a Grain of Sand
   And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
   Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
   And Eternity in an hour." (from "Auguries of Innocence", 1789)

- "Everything that lives is holy, life delights in life." (from "America: A Prophecy", 1793)

- "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "The busy bee has no time for sorrow." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "Energy is Eternal Delight." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "Expect poison from the standing water." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "The lust of the goat is the bounty of God." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "One thought fills immensity." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "The road of excess leads to the palace of Wisdom." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "The voice of honest indignation is the voice of God." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "The weak in courage is strong in cunning." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "What is now proved was once only imagin'd." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough." (from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", 1793)

- "Abstinence sows sand all over
   The ruddy limbs and flaming hair,
   But Desire Gratified
   Plants fruits of life and beauty there." (from "Poems and Fragments from the Note-Book", 1793)

- "He who binds to himself a joy
   Doth the winged life destroy;
   But he who kisses the joy as it flies
   Lives in eternity's sun rise." (from "Poems and Fragments from the Note-Book", 1793)

- "I wander thro' each dirty street,
   Near where the dirty Thames does flow,
   And mark in every face I meet
   Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
   In every cry of every man
   In every infant's cry of fear
   In every voice, in every ban
   The mind forg'd manacles I hear." (from "Poems and Fragments from the Note-Book", 1793)

- "Love to faults is always blind,
   Always is to joy inclin'd,
   Lawless, wing'd, and unconfin'd,
   And Breaks all chains from every mind." (from "Poems and Fragments from the Note-Book", 1793)

- ""Why of the sheep do you not learn peace?"
   "Because I don't want you to shear my fleece."" (from "Poems and Fragments from the Note-Book", 1793)

- "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." (from "Songs of Innocence and of Experience", 1794)

- "If thought is life
   And strength and breath,
   And the want
   Of thought is death." (from "Songs of Innocence and of Experience", 1794)

- "The modest rose puts forth a thorn,
   The humble Sheep a threat'ning horn;
   While the Lilly white shall in Love delight,
   Nor a thorn, nor a threat, stain her beauty bright." (from "Songs of Innocence and of Experience", 1794)

- "As a man is, so he sees." (from a letter to Rev. D. Trusler, 1799 )

- "I have written this Poem from immediate Dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without Premeditation and even against my Will; the Time it has taken in writing was thus render'd Non Existent, and an immense Poem Exists which seems to be the Labor of a long life, all produc'd without Labor or Study." (from "a letter to Thomas Butts", 1803)

- "I may praise [the Poem], since I dare not pretend to be any other than the Secretary; the Authors are in Eternity." (from "a letter to Thomas Butts", 1803)

- "I will not cease from Mental Fight,
   Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
   Till we have built Jerusalem
   In England's green and pleasant Land." (from "Milton: A Poem", 1804-1808)

- "He has observ'd the Golden Rule,
   Till he's become the Golden Fool." (from "Epigrams, Verses and Fragments from the Note-Book", 1808-1811)

- "Manners make the Man, not Habits." (from "A Vision of the Last Judgment", 1810)

- ""What," it will be Question'd, "When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?" O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty."" (from "A Vision of the Last Judgment", 1810)

- "Works of Art can only be produced in Perfection where the Man is either in Affluence or is Above the Care of it." (from "A Vision of the Last Judgment", 1810)

- "This Life's dim windows of the Soul
   Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
   And leads you to Believe a Lie
   When you see with, not thro', the Eye." (from "The Everlasting Gospel", 1818)

- "One Power alone makes a Poet: Imagination, The Divine Vision.")


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