LIFE - Born in London in 1757, Blake was a radical and supported the French Revolution. He thought that industrial development had evil effects on human soul, so he believed in the character of the artist as a guardian of spirit and imagination. He was very religious because of the community of craftsmen around him, and his main fount of inspiration was the Bible, as its complete scheme presented a total vision of world and story. He died in London in 1827.
ARTIST - His paintings were influenced a lot by Michelangelo, especially for exaggerated muscular forms, and his experience of engraver gave them a feature: a sinuous flowing line. Blake didn’t respect the conventions of the age about proportions, and created a painting which gave power to imagination.
POET - He rejected neoclassical literary style and themes. He underlined the importance of imagination over reason and thought that ideal forms should come from inner vision, not from observations. His main works are Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). They are two parts of human soul, apparently in contrast, but coexisting at the same time. Innocence is identified with childhood, experience with adulthood. In the Songs of Innocence the language is simple and musical - Probably written before French Revolution, while Songs of Experience during the Terror at its height.
PROPHET - Blake also wrote some prophetic books in which he created his personal mythology and invented his own characters to reflect on social interests and denounce authority. The first was The marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), a prose work, mixture of aphorisms, anecdotes and proverbs [Satan - Hell represented liberty, Heaven was the place of lawgiving]. Desire and energy gain supremacy over reason. Heaven is a condition for satisfaction, Hell represents bad events of life, but also revolution - they are contraries which need to be reconnected, as they are part of the same soul.
THE CHYMNEY SWEEPER - Songs of Innocence 1789
Being small, children (orphans) could climb up and down chimneys. Simple language, which hides symbol and images. Important element of irony about church and religious power - the boy is told to be good by the angel, but he was left by his father when very young; so the angel deceives the boy but he cannot help him → church seen as an agent of injustice.
THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER - Songs of Experience 1794
In this version negative elements prevail on positive ones - More negative words used (Crying, woe, death, injury…).
LONDON - Songs of Experience 1794
Here it is strong the sense of opposition to institutions (like marriage, described with a hearse) and returns the Chimney Sweeper, as a character symbol of social decline. There are quotations from the Bible (I wander at the beginning).
THE LAMB - Songs of Innocence 1789
Symbol of purification, in many countries it is used for sacrifices (conventional symbol of Christ). While the Tyger means cruelty and wildness, the lamb is meek and mild → contraries return. God is present from the beginning; he is a positive presence, he cares about creatures. “Bless” represents directly God. The child is close to the origins, so very close to God.
THE TYGER - Songs of Experience 1794
(Animal of Tyger → Strong, violent, wild, can’t be controlled, but beautiful → SUBLIME)
There are questions all over, without answers → MISTERY. The power of fire can help to bring the light of reason over the darkness of ignorance, but it has also a destroying power, like revolution. The poem has a hammery rhythm, made strong by the troquée _ _ and by short, repeated questions. The poem remembers two myths, Daedalus and Icarus, who tried to fly, and Prometheus, who tried to steal the sacred fire of reason. “The poet is a visionary and a prophet”.
POET → Someone who teach others to go over reality and reconcile the two parts of human soul.
PROPHET → A leader, someone who achieve the truth; the prophet is between God and his creatures.