Between Early and Full Romanticism and historically belongs to the first period but anticipated many Romantic themes, much more than Gray. He was born in London in a poor family and didn’t attend of regular school.
His father noted that he was very good at drawing so he sent him to a school of drawing and his teacher set him, to exercise, to copy parts of statues or architectural parts of the Gothic cathedral of Westminster.
This fact is important because Blake, under a literal point of view, was a self-taught and understood the extreme spirituality of the Gothic art.
In fact Blake communicated, with his art, his spirituality and the fact that he was deeply religious.
Basely he formed himself reading:
-the Classics of English literature like Shakespeare and Milton (“Paradise lost”)
-Dante and the Divine Comedy (and illustrated part of this work with his drawing and engravings)
He liked this way of accompanying his texts with drawings and he said that this particular technique, that he called “illuminated printing” was instead told to him by his dead brother in a vision.
He was also deeply interested in the studies of:
so his religion and philosophy where quiet different from the Christian religion.
He was imbued of that works and he believed in the possibility of contact with the world of the dead.
For Blake the dead was just a passage from one room to the other and when he died he got smile on his face. He was also attracted by eastern philosophies in general and all this things where mixed with his political ideas.
Politically engaged (a Revolutionary)
He read many writings by William Godwin and Thomas Pain, radical author of the period: in fact he believed in the strength of Revolution (even after he saw its violence) that he saw like a cleaner of the world to recreate a new society, possibly a republican one and even though he tended to a sort of anarchy, he believed in the importance of the personal freedom, in fact he was influenced by the philosophy of libertines.
For them the happiness of an individual depended on his personal freedom so the chains of morals, religion and society where refused. He shared with them the idea that the individual must not be conditioned by that chains and also the relationships between men and women must not depend on marriage, which was considered not important.
He also wants that children not to be exploited and in favor of the abolition of slavery.
Another great influence on his thought was giving by the reading of Plato and Neo-Platonic philosophy.
So he considered the world as an appearance, a kind of veil, that hides the truth and consequently the poet is the person that can see beyond the veil and catch the truth: the poet is a SEER and he can do this mainly because he is endowed with imagination.
The poet is also a PROPHET because has the duty task to revile what he has caught under the veil of appearance
Imagination is, for Blake:
- instrument of knowledge: because it’s superior to reason
- creative power: in fact the poet is creator of beauty
The poet is similar to a child: he must preserve the ability of a child to use imagination which children use naturally.
The poet, who is an adult, is completely different from a child because an adult met experience and evil but he preserves a spirit of a child and his imagination.
Children are naturally innocent, they got no evil, also because they have remembrances of their past life with God. This is also why they are so naturally good and able to use imagination.
Who is god?
His religious system is based on the dualism: good and evil continuously clash but thanks to both we can make progresses.
The word “God” is never used by Blake: he prefer words like “maker” or “creator” because God his “imagination”.
The original sin is seen by Blake like the refuse of imagination and the accept of the reason.
God is not only imagination but also a kind of mixture of all the possible divinities expressed by many religions so his religion can be defined as syncretistic.
His God is both Jupiter and Christian God, both an artist and an inventor such as Dedalo or Prometheus.
He recognizes that there are many truths in other religions, even the pagan ones, and fuses them together.
God created Good and Evil because also Evil is necessary to grow up and to permit the progress and the evolution and the adult is not seen as a negative thing because it is necessary also if the child is the symbol of purity and goodness.
Blake wrote many works in which he tried to express his very original ideas about art, imagination, poetry and religion in which he uses many symbols that are quiet difficult to understand.
He wrote 2 collections of songs:
-songs of innocence: written before the explosion of French Revolution
Are narrated by a child, like an angel, on a cloud in which the innocence and purity of children is celebrated
-songs of experience: written after the Period of Terror of French Revolution (seen as the evil of that period)
The vision is different from the first songs and the author talks about the same subjects both in the songs of innocence and experience but they are expressed in different ways and tones.
Blake is a pre-romantic
Blake is an anticipator of the romantic themes mainly because of
-the vision he had of imagination as a creative power and an instrument of knowledge
-he tries to define the poet essence: it is both a SEER and a PROPHET
Another anticipation of romanticism was that to make his works more understandable, in particular in the songs, he uses a symbol language because the language must be understood by everybody. Not the typical rhetorical language, taken from the classical tradition, but an easy language that people could understand, based on Anglo-Saxon’s vocabulary.