William Blake, 1757-1827
William Blake was born in London in 1757 and he died there in 1827. He came from a middle-class family, but he was humble and he remained poor all his life. He was the third of seven children. He didn’t go to the public school, but he was educated from his mother at home. Even if the Blake didn’t go to the Anglican church, the most important literary influence in his life was the Bible, because it presented a complete scheme, a total vision of the world and its history. Blake was aware of the political and social issues of his age: he supported the French Revolution and he remained a radical all his life. Probably the evil effects on the men’s soul that he saw in the industrial development convinced him that the artist should have a new role, he should become the guardian of the spirit and imagination. Blake absorbed his strong sense of religion from his background, because the community of the craftsmen was a very devoted one. He had very few intimate friends in his life: his wife, Catherine Boucher and his younger brother Robert were the most important. Even if he criticized the religion, his refuse wasn’t for the religion in it, but for the religion of his time. Blake built his own mythology based on the Bible and on the Greek mythology, which absorbs a wide space in his activity.
When he was 10 years old his father sent him to a drawing school, where he came in contact with the statues of Raphael and Michelangelo. Then he began to draw the monuments in the old churches if London, especially Westminster Abbey, from which he derived his love of the Gothic style. One of the main features of his pictorial style is the sinuous flowing line. Painter were expected to conform to standards of realistic representation and to respect perspective and proportions, Blake broke with these conventions and created a new kind of art which emphasized the power of the imagination.
His experience as a craftsman, a visionary and a radical, contributed to the development of his poetry. He believed that ideal forms should be created not from observations of nature but from inner visions. His most important collections of short lyrical verses are: “Songs of Innocence” (1789) and “Songs of Experience” (1794). Blake was also active in publishing prophetic books in which he created a complex personal mythology and invented his own symbolic characters to reflect his social interests and denounce authority. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is a prose work, a mixture of aphorisms, anecdotes, proverbs in which Hell and Satan represent liberty and energy, while Haven is the place of law giving. Some others Blake’s works are: “Visions of the Daughters of Albion”, “America”, “Europe”. Blake influenced British art through the Pre-Raphalites and the modern Irish poet W.B.Yeats.
Blake believed that the Church was the responsible of the fragmentation and of the dualism characterizing the men’s life. His Christianity wasn’t orthodox. Blake substituted this dualistic view with his vision of “complementary opposites”, because he believed that without contraries there is no progress. For him the possibility of progress lies in the tension between opposite state of mind. We can see the compare of the opposites if we analyze “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”, but there isn’t one of them who’s superior, there’s only a law of the nature that makes the lamb and the tiger be like they are; the two contraries aren’t in opposition, but they may coexist, and in fact their creator is the same.
Blake considered imagination as the means through which men could know the world. The poet identifies himself with a little child and sometimes he identifies the little child with God, because they are all endowed of a strong imagination. We can also compare Blake to Platone.
The poet was concerned with the political and social problems of his time: he supported the abolition of the slavery and the French Revolution and he focused on the evil consequences of the Industrial Revolution which caused a materialistic attitude on the men. In his poems he sympathized with the victims of industrial society such as children and prostitutes.
Blake’s style is simple, with simple structure and the use of individual symbolism. His verse is linear and rhythmical, and it shows a close relationship between sound and meaning. His style is also characterized by the frequent use of repetitions.