William BlakeW. Blake was a poet, artist, engraver and a visionary. Thanks to engraver and artistic studies he was able to earn a living. In 1782 he married and teached his wife to read and write, and also she helped him with his engraving and colouring.
He printed on copperplates and then coloured by hand, so each book became an unique work of art.
We know that Blake was a visionary: since he was a child, he often saw God and angels looking down on him, and as an adult he conversed with the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary; also he received visits from the souls of his brother Robert, or Dante, Milton, Voltaire and many others.
Blake expressed his ideas in two kind of poems.
On the first type he tend to make use of uncomplicated language, symbols and images, to affect reader’s imagination. An example are the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
The second type of poems are long, complex and obscure, full of allegory and difficult to interpret.
In many ways Blake anticipates the themes of Romanticism, with exaltation of art, freedom, nature, love for justice and democracy.
He found the models in the Bible and in Milton, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spencer...
His masterpiece is Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, characterized by imagination , symbolism and the element of nature. They were published in 1789. It was the first volume to be printed from copperplate and decorated by hand, it contains from 20 to 25 short poems united by a common inspiration and a simple design.
The first set is a poetical description of man’s state of “innocence”; in the second part there is the theme of “experience”. In a way, man must know not only of joy, but also of sorrow, experience becomes a necessary stage in the cycle of life.
The Lamb represent the perfect innocence of childhood, Christ (in particular his sweetness and meekness) or the poet himself.
The decoration is illuminated and colorful; we see a child talking to a lamb and a big leafy tree in the background.
The Tiger represent rage and violence, the light of the spirit or of genius.
In the picture of the tiger there is a tree, too, but it is bare; colors are extinguished and the image transmits a sense of pain and solitude.
The Lamb and The Tiger symbolize two different aspects of the same subject: Christ (gentleness and violence) or man (innocence and experience). The two aspects are complementary and suffering and sorrow can man develop his vital energies.
RomanticismRomanticism born in Germany, thanks to literary movement called “Sturm und Drang”, a movement opposed to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. English Romanticism was affected by new ideas of simplicity and democratization; “poetic diction” was replaced by spoken language, on the heroic couplet prevailed a return to blank verse and sonnet.
The poet tended to withdraw into himself, indulging in introspection and meditation. He begin to speak about joys, fears, melancholy and passions emphasized by titanism. The most important element is imagination, which distinguishes Romantic writers, side by side with the element of melancholy and nature; in fact, conveyed a new sense of intimate communion between nature and man.