• Blake the Man:
William Blake was born in London in 1757 and he died there in 1827.
He was an engraver and he practised this craft until he died.
He was aware of the great political and social issues of his age; he was a political freethinker and supported the French Revolution and remained radical all his life.
Blake was against the evil effects of industrial development on man’s soul and that convinced him that the artist should have a new role, in fact he should become the guardian of the spirit and imagination.
Blake also had a strong sense of religion, in fact the most important literary influence in his life was the Bible.
After the death of his brother Robert, William began to have visions of his dead brother.
• Blake the Artist:
When he was 10 years old, his father sent him to a drawing school, where he studied the works of Raphael and Michelangelo; the influence of Michelangelo could be seen n the exaggerated muscular form.
Blake created a new kind of art which emphasised the power of the imagination.
He created his own method for making prints that combine picture and poetic text called ‘illuminate printing’.
Much of Blake’s painting deals with religious subjects coming from the Bible.
• Blake the Poet:
He’s an Early Romantic poet, because he rejected neoclassical style and themes.
He gave more importance to imagination over reason and believed that ideal forms should be created from inner visions.
Blake’s two most important works are the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience.
The Songs of Innocence are in the pastoral mode, where the narrator is a shepherd who receives inspiration from a child to pipe his songs; the use of symbolic imagery is fairly simple: there are lambs, flowers and children playing on the village green.
It deals with childhood as the symbol of innocence.
The language is simple and musical.
The Songs of Innocence were produced before the French Revolution and the Songs of Experience were produced during the period of Terror.
The Songs of Experience shows a more pessimistic view of life; the themes are the experience and the adulthood.
• Blake the Prophet:
Blake influenced British art through the Pre-Raphaelites and the modern Irish poet Yeats.
• Complementary Opposites:
Blake criticized the Church because it was the responsible of imposing a dualism that’s characterising man’s life.
To this dualistic view, he substituted his vision of ‘complementary opposites’: good and evil, male and female, reason and imagination, cruelty and kindness.
The possibility of progress, of achieving the knowledge of what we are, lies in the tension between opposite states of mind.
The two states coexist not only in the humans but also in God, who can be at the same time the God of love and the God of violence.
• Imagination and the Poet:
Blake considered imagination the thing through which man could know the world.
Imagination, or the ‘Divine Vision’, means “to see more, beyond material reality, into life and things”.
God, the child and the poet share this power of vision.
The poet became a sort of prophet who can see more deeply into reality and also who tries to warn man of the evils of society.
• Blake’s interest in social problems:
Blake was interested in political and social problems of his time: he supported the abolition of slavery and shared enthusiasm for the egalitarian principles of the French Revolution; he saw the revolution as a purifying violence necessary for redemption of man.
Later, he focused his attention on the evil consequences of the Industrial Revolution; the injustices caused by a materialistic attitude and the commercial exploitation of humans.
In his poems he sympathized with the victims of industrial society such as children and prostitutes, as well as with the victims of oppression by institution such as orphans and soldiers.
Blake’s poems present a very simple structure and many symbols; these are the child, the father and Christ, representing the states of innocence, experience and a higher innocence.