The Complexity of William Blake's Poetry
Northrop Frye, in his critical essay, "Poetry and Design," states; "In a world as specialized as ours, concentration on one gift and a rigorous subordination of all others is practically a moral principle" (Frye 137). William Blake's refusal to follow this moral principle by putting his poetry before his art, or vice versa, makes his work extraordinary as well as complex and ambiguous. Although critics attempt to juggle Blake's equally impressive talents, they seem to land on either one side or the other; failing to transcend, as Blake did, that moral principle of concentration. Blake, not only controlled his art and poetry through innovative printing techniques, but controlled how his readers interacted with it. By activating the reader's imagination through images, Blake's poetry is no longer words on a page, but it is alive; his visions and ideas made real through the integration of design and text.
Blake did not merely combine "art and poetry," but on another level, came up with an innovative way to present this combination which allowed him to be independent of publishers. In Blake's time, divisions existed between author, illustrator, engraver, printer and publisher. "Exigencies of the production took precedence over originality, and imitation ruled over imagination" (Easson 35).
Blake's revolutionary method's of illuminated printing are startlingly similar the technological changes that are currently taking place in design and written communication fields. Today, writers and artists have freedom and control over their work. With technological advancements in computer software, all aspects of publishing and production can be eliminated. The illuminated book was a way for Blake to integrate both his talents and simultaneously gain personal independence. Although the idea of the illuminated book successfully yoked together art and text, "Blake found that the traditional eighteenth century illustrated book failed to realize the potential of its form," and he was about to change that. To create anew both the illustrated book and its reader, to bring into relief the infinite form of the book hidden by fragmentation's of its art, Blake created his method of illuminated printing. "A comparison of Blake's works with typical eighteenth-century illustrated books reveals some of the sources available to Blake for illustrative techniques and shows points of contact between Blake's commercial career as copy engraver and his vocation as book artist." (Easson 36)
"The illustrated book's structure is determined by the interaction of function and the book's physical properties, thereby establishing the quality and degree of correlation within the book's text and designs" (Easson 41) The convenience and wisdom of yoking together decoration and illustration reside in the practical need to identify certain structural relationships of a book's text and designs. It is not just "art" and then poetry...