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The Work Of William Blake Essay

1173 words - 5 pages

The Work of William Blake

William Blake, a visionary English poet and painter who was a
precursor of English Romanticism, combined the vocations of engraver,
painter, and poet. He was born on Nov. 28, 1757, the son of a London
hosier. Blake spent all of his relatively quiet life in London except
for a stay at Felpham, on the southern coast of England, from 1800 to
1803.

Largely self-taught, Blake was, however, widely read, and his poetry
shows the influence of the German mystic Jakob Boehme, for example,
and of Swedenborgianism. As a child, Blake wanted to become a painter.
He was sent to drawing school at age 10 and at the age of 14 was
apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver. From sketching frequently at
Westminster Abbey, he developed an interest in the Gothic style, which
he combined with a taste for the art of Raphael, Michelangelo, and
Durer. He exhibited his first artwork in 1780, married Catherine
Boucher in 1782, and published his first poems, Poetical Sketches, in
1783. He quickly withdrew them from circulation, however, apparently
offended by the condescending preface written by a patron. Amid its
traditional, derivative elements are hints of his later innovative
style and themes. As with all his poetry, this volume reached few
contemporary readers.

Blake produced and published his other works himself, except those
which remained in manuscript at his death, by using his own unique
method of engraving both illustration and text on copper plates and
colouring the printed volumes by hand. He executed numerous engravings
for books by others as well as watercolours and other kinds of
paintings. Blake gave only one private exhibition, for which he wrote
an interesting Descriptive Catalogue (1809), but the show was a
failure and received severe criticism. Some of the major works
exhibited at it have since been lost.

The earliest of Blake's well-known works is Songs of Innocence (1789).
These lyrics-fresh, direct observations-are notable for their
eloquence. In 1794, disillusioned with the possibility of human
perfection, Blake issued Songs of Experience, employing the same lyric
style and much of the same subject matter as in Songs of Innocence.
Both series of poems take on deeper resonances when read in
conjunction. Innocence and Experience, "the two contrary states of the
human soul," are contrasted in such companion pieces as "The Lamb" and
"The Tyger." Blake wrote, but never published, a number of additional
short poems, including the cryptic "Mental Traveller" and an
unfinished poem on the acts of Jesus entitled "The Everlasting
Gospel." For the most part, though, he concentrated on producing
longer engraved works, most of which have powerful and astonishing
illustrations and designs and form a huge, original cosmic drama of
titanic powers who war...

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