William Blake was born in London in 1757, the son of a small tradesman. He soon began to show his artistic inclination, and at the age of fourteen he wa apprenticed to an engrave under whose directions he received a good training.
He developed his own original relief-engraving technique, the “illuminated printing”, which he used for the rest of his life to produce his relief and could be printed in any time he was better known a san engraver than as a writer.
Songs of Innocence appeared in 1789. They are a collection of simple poems etched on cooper with hand coloured decorations. The poems are centred around the figure of the child and focus on the theme of innocence. The Songs of Experience (1794) show that innocence is corrupted and destroyed by experience – which is part of life.
In spite of being a visionare, Blake was not indifferent to the political and social issues of his time, and responded passionately to the cruelty of the slave trade or to the inumane exploitation of children, especially the chimney sweepers. Current affaire inspired some of his early prophetic works. The French Revolution, a Prophecy (1791), and America, a Prophecy (1793) celebrated the revolution in France and the independence of the American colonies, while Visions of the Daughters of Albino (1793) denounced the subordination of women.
Between 1794 and 1795 the other prophetic works appeared. In poems like The Book of Urizen (1794) and The song and Book of Los (1795) – just to quote the most famous – Blake developed his own mythology. The systems of these works is hard to decode, because it is based on the poet’s own mystical and metaphysical systems. The same vision emerges from hia great symbolical poems Milton (1803-1808) and Jerusalem (1804-1820). These last works contain beautiful lyrics, but they are not easily understood.
Blake was often disappointed by the lack of recognition that his work received, and suffered from fits of depression. From 1810 to 1817 he lived in retirement and poverty, occasionally selling copies of his books.
His last years were happier. He met young artists who appreciated his art and helped him get more work. In 1825 he made illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy, and was still working at them when he died in 1827.