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William Blake - The Man and the Poet


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William Blake

The  Man and the Poet

William Blake was born in London in 1757 into a Lower class family. At ten years was sent to a drawing school and then apprenticed to an engraver. At twenty two he entered the Royal Academy.

Engraving, illuminating and painting were to remain the main sources of this meagre i 959b11j ncome throughout his life. In 1789 he published Songs of innocence. He engraved, instead of printing, his poems, adding a picture that translated the poetic theme in visual terms. In 1794 he published Songs of Innocence and of Experience in a combined volume.

The sale of this and other books was not a success and Blake was forced to illustrate the work of other authors.

Despite his dislike of patronage, he was obliged to look of patrons and rely on their protection and money almost till his death in 1827. Of this other works, the so-called prophetic books expressed his belief in the poet as a prophet and sympathy for revolutionary movements; his late mythological poems are often obscured as they are full of a personal mythology and were little known in his time. Blake's work as a whole was not really appreciated until the end of the 19th century.

Blake's collection Songs of Innocence and of Experience represents only a fragment of his total poetic production, but well illustrate his major themes and his style. Though contrasting with one another, the two parts of the collection are meant to be complementary.

Externally the innocence seems to apply to the condition of man in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, but psychologically it applies to the condition of the child. The inner state of innocence is externalized in a world of images such as the child and the lamb.

Experience is the world of normal adult life, when people are incapable of spontaneity, and the social order produces inequality. It is a state of life whose external symbols are sounds and sights of distress or a creature like the tiger.

The two states coexist within the uman being - they are "the two contrary states of the human soul"

Behind this dual vision of life lies a parallel dual vision of God: in SoI the lamb is the symbol of God's innocence; in SoE the tiger is a powerful symbol of energy whose meaning extends to questioning the nature of God.

It has often been said that Blake's intensely visionary and individual poetry marked the beginning of a new age. He distrusted the "reasoning Power in Man" because he associated it with the rejection of faith, inspiration and imagination. For him imagination is the ability to see more deeply into the life of things.

The internal mind shapes the way man sees the external world. So the poet who is endowed with imagination can see beyond surface reality. In the poem The Lamb a little lamb is transfigured into the symbol of what a loving god can create

Blake was passionately involved in the political and social issues surrounding the American and French revolutions; he supported the London riots for American independence and was particularly sympathetic to the egalitarian claims of the French Revolution. His poems provide ample evidence of his affinity with the poor and the oppressed.

The child and the theme of childhood are to be found in both collections with different features. In SoI the child retains the innocence of a new-born infant who is loved and protected by God or when entrapped in the wicked world of adults regain his freedom in a luminous dream. In SoE the child neglected by the parents and by society is a common figure and is symbolic of oppressed.

Blake's view of the poet is that of a visionary man, gifted with imagination, whose work parallels that of God in creation. He tries to understand the value of the creation, questioning the lamb and the tiger; the tone is often that of a prophet, emotional and grave, indignant and compassionate for the oppressed. His task is to warn men against the evils they themselves are a source of; he aimed at a wide reading public.


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