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Thread: General Discussion for Blake Lovers

  1. #1
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    General Discussion for Blake Lovers

    I would like to start a general Blake thread. I really enjoy Blake but I feel like I came to him quite late on in university and have now lost the opportunity to talk to people there about his work (I'm finished uni now). I think I still have a long way to to go with fully understanding a lot of Blake (my essay on Blake was one of my least successful in the last two years) and I still have a lot more to read.

    I've seen there have been quite a few threads started about Blake's greater known works: Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in particular. I think these are brilliant but I'd also like to discuss and learn more about the rest of his work.

    To start off I'll say I have read (as well as those mentioned above): America, Europe, The Song of Los, The First Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, The Book of Los, and Auguries of Innocence.

    I have a Blake: The Complete Poems but it's a pretty large book. Can anyone advise me as to what I should read next? Are there any specific poems you'd like to discuss?

    I know these author sub-forums don't always get a lot of attention but I'll keep popping back periodically so even if you stumble across this thread in a few weeks/months/years I'll try to reply.

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    Also, if anyone happens to reply soonish, what would you consider Blake's most calming poem?

    This question's more for something I'm writing than a more general interest in Blake but thought I might as well keep my Blake questions together.
    Last edited by Dark Lady; 07-03-2009 at 04:27 PM. Reason: Took me this long to notice the typo!

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    AcccK! A Blake discussion and somehow I missed out. I'll try to remember to stop by and take part... but right now I'm off to my art studio to actually do some of my work. I do have a blog entry on Blake which discusses some of his artistic as well as literary contributions:

    http://stlukesguild.wordpress.com/20...william-blake/
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    Thank you for replying Stlukesguild. I read your blog entry and found it very interesting (as well as easy on the eyes - I love that olivey shade of green - though I would expect nothing less from an artist ).

    Any comments, suggestions, questions etc would be much appreciated since, as I said, my interest in Blake came in my last semester at university so I feel like I lost out a little on an opportunity there.

    Although I am no artist and I have very little knowledge of art past being able to point at something and say 'I like that', I do greatly admire Blake's artistic merit as well as his literary achievements. Before I started to really get into Blake - and decided to just buy a book of his complete poetry - I bought copies of Song of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell with the full colour illuminations. I'm glad I have these as my copy of his complete poetry only has a few illustrations in the middle and I think you miss the full effect of Blake if you only have the text.

    Anyway, for a quick reply of graditude this is getting quite long so I'll just say thanks for replying and I hope you come back!
    If you'd like to talk about Blake I promise I'll keep checking this thread. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=45098

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    Registered User PoeticPassions's Avatar
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    Ah, so great to see a Blake discussion thread! I am also on my way home soon (from work), but will be back on here to participate in the discussion...

    A good place to find his works (for those that do not have a complete works book of his) is:
    www.blakearchive.org
    "All gods are homemade, and it is we who pull their strings, and so, give them the power to pull ours." -Aldous Huxley

    "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires." -William Blake

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Yes! The Blake Archive is a great site and it has many of Blake's manuscripts available for view. In many cases it has multiple versions (and these do change in terms of his handling of the images from copy to copy as they were all hand-painted).
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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    So Stlukesguild and PoeticPassions (and anyone else who drops by) do you have anything specific in relation to Blake you wish to discuss?

    If not then what are a couple of your favourite poems or passages? I'd love to know to get a feel for what I should read next (though I'm busy the next couple of days I have spare time coming up).

    The poem I was first struck by was 'London' from Songs of Experience. I studied it in second year (I think) of university and I was blown away by it. I was drawn to the language and probably the metre. On further study there was so much going on in that short poem! Little things that you don't notice the first dozen times you read it through. Like the way the third stanza is walled in by the word 'hear'; one at the end of the line preceding it, one at the end of the line suceeding it, and then down the edge using the first letter of each line of the third stanza itself.

    I didn't look at more of his work much until more recently. I was fascinated by the mythical world he creates, populated by characters like Los and Urizen and the shadowy daughter of Urthona. I think I could probably spend years studying some of his longer poems.
    If you'd like to talk about Blake I promise I'll keep checking this thread. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=45098

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    William Blake (November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827) may just be my single favorite British poet so I will need to offer fair warning as to the possibility of some bias. Blake has long been accepted as one of the “great six” of British Romanticism (Blake, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge) and one of the greatest poets ever to have written in the English language. His achievements in the visual arts, however, have gained him near equal acclaim, and it is to his achievements as a visual artist that I'll address this posting.

    Blake has been one of the most misunderstood and maligned of any major poet/artist. He is often portrayed as a half-mad genius, a wacked-out visionary who spoke to spirits, a political naif, a curmudgeon and “outsider”, a self-taught artist and poet who had little knowledge or experience of the art or literature of his predecessors or of his own time. Most of these stereotypes have but little reality to them.

    Blake was a major figure both as a poet and as an artist. His achievement in two very different art forms is quite rare. Richard Wagner is recognized both for his music and for his literary abilities... having composed the librettos for his own operas (librettos that stand as literature in and of themselves). Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, both of whom admired Blake, were both artists and authors/poets of real merit... although Blake is clearly greater as both poet and artist than either. Perhaps the only figure to surpass Blake in his achievements across the artistic spectrum is that of Michelangelo, who was a master painter, sculptor, architect, and poet.

    Blake had little formal education as a child... indeed, as a writer he was largely untutored... refusing to attend school as a child... and supported in this by his father, who was somewhat revolutionary in his political, social, and religious views. Nevertheless, Blake was very well-read and often of that literature which was not part of the accepted canon of his time. Of course he was well-versed in the works of Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Chaucer, Ben Jonson, Spencer, and the Bible… but other sources of inspiration include Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft (with whom he was friends and political ally), Emanuel Swedenborg, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Plato, Plotinus, the Hermetica and the Bhagavad Gita, mythologies of the world from Egypt to Iceland to India to ancient Britain and even the Kabbalah. Not only was Blake well-read, but he was also an insightful reader who developed interpretations that freely challenged the accepted ones.

    Blake may not have had the advantage of a formal education in literature... nevertheless, he was most certainly not unlearned... or self taught... especially as an artist. Blake developed an early love of drawing by copying engravings of masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Albrecht Dürer. In this he was was fully supported by his father. Unable to afford apprenticeship to a painting master, Blake was initially apprenticed to the fashionable William Ryland, engraver to King George. The young William, however, however would request that his father find a more suitable match for his talents, declaring that Ryland had “the hanging look about him”. (Ryland would end on the scaffold some years later, convicted for forging currency.) Blake spent his apprentice years under James Basire. Basire’s manner of working was rather out-dated...



    ...stressing the linear contours and avoiding the more painterly affects that would allow for replication of paintings or the creation of more atmospheric elements. His manner, however, was perfectly suited to Blake’s own personal preferences for the linear sculptural form. Basire’s chief source of income was the result of commissioned engravings to be made of architectural and sculptural details of English churches and cathedrals:



    Through his apprenticeship to Basire, Blake was exposed to the stylistic abstractions of Romanesque and Gothic art which would have been largely dismissed by most artists of the time:



    "Horror Vacui" (the fear of emptiness) as witnessed in Blake's crammed compositions in many echo compositional techniques of the medieval sculptors filling the entire architectural setting:



    Where Blake's abstractions or expressive "distortions" were often dismissed as proof of his incompetence or eccentricity, in reality they owe much to his study of medieval art and other sources that were largely ignored during his lifetime. Many of his images suggest older sculptural designs in which the composition was dictated by the form:

    Tympanum:





    Arches:



    Funerary Relief Sculpture:





    There are even elements in Blake's paintings which suggest Asian art:





    The strongest of Blake's paintings audaciously contort or distort the figure in order to make it adhere to a simple yet bold abstract compositional design:





    During Blake's lifetime, such abstractions were seen as mannerisms that were eccentric in the extreme and did not adhere to naturalism. Of course Blake would have argued that he cared not whether such images followed nature. Imagination was what mattered. With the advent of Modernism Blake no longer looked so eccentric and looked even less reactionary; rather he was seen as "visionary"... or perhaps even "prophetic" in his embrace of abstract form.

    In 1778 Blake enrolled in the Royal Academy. He quickly rebelled against the preference of the academy for such painterly masters as Rubens, Rembrandt, and Titian… as well as against the president of the academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds. He detested Reynold’s pursuit of “naturalism” and “generalizations” and he would write in the margins of his personal copy of Reynold’s Discourses, “To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit”.

    In 1782 Blake met John Flaxman (sculptor) and George Cumberland (one of the founders of the National Gallery, London) who would both become patrons of his work. He also met Catherine Boucher, who would become his wife. Illiterate at the time of his marriage, Blake would not only teach her to read and write, but also educate her in the art of watercolors and engraving. She would become an invaluable aid to him in the creation of his printed books and a great moral support.

    In 1784 Blake and his brother, Robert opened a print shop, and began working with the radical publisher, Joseph Johnson. Through Johnson, Blake met with some of the leading intellectual dissidents of the time, including Joseph Priestly, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, William Wordsworth, and William Godwin. Inspired by Wollstonecraft’s views on marriage and sexuality Blake composed his Visions of the Daughters of Albion in 1793. It is quite possible that Percy Shelley may have come across Blake’s writings in the possession of Mary Godwin (Shelley), Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter.

    Perhaps most important, however, of Blake's early associations... at least in terms of his artistic development... was the Swiss-born painter, Henri Fuseli. Blake was clearly indebted to Fuseli stylistically; his "expressive" distortions owe much to the examples of the older artist. Blake was also inspired by Fuseli's mastery of literary narrative; a great many of Fuseli's best-known paintings illustrate scenes from Milton, Goethe, or Shakespeare:



    Nor can one overlook the fantastic inventiveness of Fuseli (criticized by many of his artistic peers of the time), his dark eroticism...



    ... and even his preference for pen and wash/watercolor (which would become the chosen medium of the majority of Blake's works):



    In 1788 Blake developed his method of “relief etching” (reportedly revealed to him by his deceased brother Robert in a dream) by which he produced most of his printed and illustrated books. Blake often referred to his illustrated books as “illuminated books”… a term used to describe the medieval books such as the Book of Kells, the Lindesfarne Gospels or the Tres Riches Heures of the Limbourg Brothers, etc...



    ...in which the text and imagery were woven into a single unified artistic entity. Like the illuminated manuscripts, Blake's images were attempts to go beyond mere illustration; rather they were aimed at "illuminating" or "enlightening" a visionary text (albeit of his own invention) in a manner that would lead to a further or greater understanding than that which might be achieved by the text alone. These books were engraved or etched in a single color...



    ...and then each volume was hand-painted in watercolors by himself or Catherine. There are clear differences between various versions of Blake's illuminations:



    Blake’s two thin volumes The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience are perhaps his most famous poetic and artistic productions… and also the first instances in which he fully integrated his visual and poetic talents.

    The Songs of Innocence consist mostly of poems describing the innocence and joy of the natural world… or the world seen from an innocent viewpoint, advocating free love and a personal relationship with God unmediated by religion. The poems and the accompanying imagery are deceptively child-like. They strike one initially as simple… even naive… but reveal a deeper meaning with with repeated reading:

    The Lamb

    Little Lamb who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?
    Gave thee life and bid thee feed
    By the stream and o’er the mead;
    Gave thee clothing of delight,
    Softest clothing whooly bright;
    Gave thee such a tender voice,
    Making all the vales rejoice.
    Little Lamb who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?

    Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
    Little Lamb I’ll tell thee;
    He is called by thy name,
    For he calls himself a lamb.
    He is meek and he is mild;
    He became a little child.
    I a child and thou a lamb,
    We are called by his name.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.

    Infant Joy

    “I have no name;
    I am but two days old.”
    What shall I call thee?
    “I happy am,
    Joy is my name.”
    Sweet joy befall thee!
    Pretty joy!
    Sweet joy, but two days old.
    Sweet Joy I call thee:
    Thou dost smile,
    I sing the while;
    Sweet joy befall thee!

    In contrast, The Songs of Experience suggest a loss of innocence after exposure to the materialistic world, “unnatural” concepts such as good and evil, sin, and religion. Most of the poems of the latter volume offer a direct counterpart to the Songs of Innocence. Perhaps the best example is The Tyger, counterpart to The Lamb, and probably Blake’s most famous (deservedly) poem:



    The Tyger

    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder, & what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears
    And water’d heaven with their tears,
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    I have long held this lyric in my memory, like many nursery rhymes and poems learned in my youth. Like a nursery rhyme, it’s hypnotic and chant-like… seeming oh so simple at first… but soon revealing far greater depths of thought… questions about the very nature of good and evil and creation. I’m always struck with chills as the poet finally confronts us with the ultimate question, “Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?”, before returning once again to the beginning, “Tyger Tyger…” and leaving that question unanswered… but perhaps provoking a little spark in our minds.

    Surprisingly, Blake may have drawn inspiration for the imagery illuminating these early books from a source that at the time was less-than-revered: in this case the embroidered samplers that were among the only artistic expressions allowed to women:



    Blake's illuminations... in which the text of his poems are woven around with branches, vines, and other (often metamorphosed) flora bear more than a striking resemblance to the artistic efforts of anonymous women embroiderers:



    Intriguingly, watercolor, Blake's medium of choice for painting, was also the medium commonly allowed to women of the era. One wonders... considering Blake's radical notions concerning the sexes... as well as his own partnership with his wife Catherine in assisting in the painting of his own productions... whether Blake's preference was in part a nod to these unknown women artisans. Blake, after all, was largely shut out or dismissed by the larger "serious" art world.

    While the texts of Blake's poems in the Songs of Innocence and Experience are deceptively child-like... the illustrations were recognized as perfectly suited to the illustration of childrens' literature and as such it would eventually inspire any number of Victorian illustrators of childrens' books.

    Perhaps the most unique… and challenging work by Blake... at least as a work of visual art... is his Job. This work is built of a title page and 21 engraved illustrations. At first glimpse one might assume that Blake has merely illustrated the Biblical text of Job… (Even the Blake Archive makes the mistake of listing this work under illustrations of text by other writers)... but as is usual with Blake, nothing is as simple as it first appears. The usual orthodox interpretation of Job (the man) is that he represents an admirable figure of faith and patience… a good man who is tested by God by having all of his worldly belongings stripped from him, his family taken away in tragedy, and his own body stricken with painful disease… and yet he does not lose his faith in God. Blake’s Job, however, is conceived as somewhat of a critique of this orthodox interpretation.

    In the first image we see Job surrounded by his family in a pastoral landscape. Job is seen as a good man, no doubt... but there are several telling details. The sun is setting. The long night is coming when Job will be sorely tested. Directly beneath the image Blake has placed the phrase, "The letter killeth; the spirit giveth life." Job embraces the letter of the law. He fears rather than loves God just as his children... kneeling before him... fear him. There is no joy... spontaneity... or music to Job's praise of God. The musical instruments all hang unused:



    Utilizing images as well as inscribed quotes from the Book of Job and other Biblical texts, Blake presents the idea that Job does not begin as a man deeply faithful to God… but rather as a figure who is faithful only in appearance. He may do the right things… but for the wrong reasons. In this plate two narratives unfold before us. God calls his servant... the tempter/Satan before him. Rather than an image of horror, evil, and ugliness, Satan (mirroring Blake's notions of good and evil) is a god-like figure himself. The greatest of the angels... almost a Mercurial messenger of the Lord. In the scene below, Job clutches his books... THE LAW... and turns his back upon the sensuality joys of his children:



    Following Job's tragic losses... his wealth and his children... he still clutches at the law... offering alms to the poor (not because he wishes to, but because he should- as is made clear by his use of his left hand). His piety is out of fear and for show. Again the god-like Satan rushes forth to test Job more:




    Blake suggests that the various trials that Job undergoes amount to a spiritual journey… from a false believer to a truly spiritual man. In what in perhaps the most powerful image, Illustration XI:



    Blake presents a Job condemned to the fires of Hell. Devils reach out from the flames below in an attempt to drag him down. Serpents entwine him. Still his hands are clutched in prayer as he looks up to the Hebrew God, Jehovah, hovering over him. Jehovah points to the tablets of the law which condemn Job while the lightning bolt of damnation leap around him. And yet… as Job glances down at Jehovah’s cloven foot and at the serpent of materialism with which he is intertwined… he realizes that this immovable God of the law is one and the same with Satan. The inscription “I know that my redeemer liveth” suggests that Job has begun to imagine that there is a better God: Jesus.

    In the final image of Job, the narrative has come full circle...



    It is now morning. In echoes of Dante's spiritual journey, the sun rises in the east and to the west the moon is now accompanied by two stars... the second being the morning star: Lucifer. Job's children are with him again (suggesting that the entire narrative recounts a spiritual rather than an actual physical transformation).No longer do Job's children kneel beneath him, but rather all burst into spontaneous praise upon the once silent musical instruments. Human expression... creativity... "imagination" are after all the true path to eternity to Blake.

    Beyond his illuminated books (to say nothing of his commercial efforts as an engraver with which he earned his keep) Blake also produced a large number of watercolor paintings illustrating scenes from the Bible, Milton, Dante, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. Some of these were bound with folios, while others were imagined as the basis for more ambitious printed books that he would never realize:

    The Bible:


    -Cain and Abel


    -Satan Smiting Job with Sores


    -The Wise and Foolish Virgins


    -The Last Judgment

    Dante's Divine Comedy:


    -Whirlwind of the Lustful


    -Antaeus Setting Down Dante and Virgil


    -Canto I: The Three Beasts

    Milton's Paradise Lost:


    -The Fall of Adam and Eve


    -Vision of the Crucifixion


    -Vision of the Resurrection

    One can only fantasize about what Blake might have achieved in the field of artist's books had he only had access to the techniques of color reproduction afforded by lithography and more modern photographic reproductions... to say nothing of the time lost upon commercial ventures that afforded him little pleasure or creative challenge.

    Unfortunately, Blake remained largely unknown outside of a small circle of admirers during his lifetime. He never attained the recognition he deserved during his lifetime and he forever lived in near poverty. A prophet by calling and an engraver by trade he struggled to eek out a living in a highly competitive field working in what appeared to many to be a hopelessly outmoded manner… yet in many ways Blake was as innovative as a visual artist as he was as a poet. At a time when oil painting dominated the visual arts (and had dominated for centuries) Blake had the audacity to reject oil painting in favor of print, watercolor and his ideal of the “illuminated books”. While Western art reveled in the abilities of the artist to mimic the appearance of physical reality, Blake rejected such a goal as worthy of the artist, declaring “One power alone makes a poet, Imagination. The Divine Vision.” As such it should come as little surprise that few took Blake’s art seriously until the advent of Modernism when invention and imagination would triumph over the imitation of nature.

    Blake did have a small group of admirers late during his life who were known as "The Ancients". This group included the painter/print-maker Samuel Palmer (something of a visionary artist in his own right):





    ... and the print-maker, Edward Calvert:



    Through them Blake's influence continued on into the 20th century in British art in a strain known as "Neo-Romanticism". Practitioners would include the print-maker Robin Tanner:



    the great painter, Stanley Spencer:



    ... and even the sculptor/print-maker, Eric Gil:



    Blake's reputation truly began to grow toward the end of the 19th century thanks to the admiration of poets/artists such as William Butler Yeats, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Through Rossetti and William Morris, Blake would prove to be an influential model upon the Pre-Raphaelites. Edward Burne-Jones' paintings show a clear awareness of the design sense of Blake:



    Certainly William Morris/Burne-Jones' famous Kelscott Chaucer looked to Blake as a worthy source of inspiration in the development of the notion of the book as an art object:



    Blake was also recognized as a source of visionary inspiration among the French Symbolists and especially the Surrealists. Andre Breton, the "Pope of Surrealism" clearly saw Blake as a precursor to his own ideas of the embrace of imagination and rejection of the rules of reason and logic.

    In spite of this, Blake’s art did not attain a level of recognition equal to that afforded to his poetry until after mid-century with the increased access to color reproduction allowing for his work to be experienced as close as possible to the manner in which he had intended. Since that time Blake’s work has grown greatly in popularity with artists and art lovers (as with lovers of literature)… and especially with those who follow the “book arts”. A recent collection of 19 watercolors were broken up by the owners and 12 sold for more than $7 million US. In spite of the incredibly high price for works on paper, the sale was actually far below what was expected. (A good many buyers opted out of the auction due to anger over the fact that the collection had been quickly broken up by speculators out to make a quick dollar rather than allowing the Tate or another museum time to raise the funds needed to purchase the work as a whole) The recent exhibition of Blake’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art drew crowds in numbers usually reserved for the finest painters in oils… not for an artist working in print and watercolor and often regulated to the category of “outsider artist”. It is clear that Blake’s achievements as a visual artist have attained a status that equals his achievements as a poet.
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 07-06-2009 at 12:38 AM.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  9. #9
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    I just got half way through a reply and managed to delete it all. So please excuse me if this seems a bit fragmented, I'm trying to rememeber everything I wrote before.

    Firstly, I'll quickly apologise for saying I'd have some free time on my hands to contribute to this thread and then abandoning it. I went to visit my parents and thought I'd have lots of leisure time for posting on here but then my laptop refused to connect to the internet there and I felt bad about kicking my mum off of her computer. It was good, though, because without the distraction of the web I got a lot written and have almost finished the first draft of my novel.

    Anyway, on to Blake. Thank you stlukesguild for the above post. As I have said before, I don't know a lot about art so the information is very helpful. I like the way you interwove various pieces for comparison within the examples of Blake's art. I didn't know that women's embroidery of the time had a similar look and may have been a source for Blake. I'll address the following to you but anyone who visits this thread can feel free to comment. Any input will be appreciated.

    I like that you mentioned Mary Wollstonecraft as an influence on Blake a couple of times. When I did my Romanticism course at uni we had to write two essays for it. I wrote about Blake and Wollstonecraft. I think part of the reason they both appealed to me was the fact that they held some similar views and ideas.

    Thinking about Blake's influences, there was something I wanted to ask. Obviously he was influenced by many people in both his art and his writing. However, there's one I haven't heard mentioned with regards to Blake and I am keen to get your opinion.

    Around the time that Blake illustrated Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life he also illustrated Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden. How much of an influence do you think Darwin had on Blake? They both use the personification of plants and their sexuality to quite a large extent (obviously Darwin more so than Blake) in their poetry. I know the purpose was very different. Darwin wanted to portray plants and their reproduction - and botany in general - in a technically accurate but also poetic way. Blake was not so interested in science and technicalities and wanted, perhaps, to show the constraints of the social conventions and jealousy of the time on something that should be natural.

    There are many instances of Blake mixing the human body and plants. Not just in obvious poems like 'The Sick Rose' and 'My Pretty Rose Tree' but also in larger works. In America there are the lines, "I feel the struggling afflictions / Endured by roots that writhe their arms in to the nether deep." He has a lot of sections that seem to parallel each other with one refering to a plant or tree and another referring to a human (or at least humanoid) body. I found this fascinating when I was reading Blake. I am not attributing all of this to Darwin but I do find the links interesting. I was just wondering if you think there is any kind of real link there or am I just waffling?

    Something that is also connected to this is the continual forging of bodies in Blake. I was reminded of this when I found 'The Tyger' in your above post. The stanza in that poem that refers to it is obviously:

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    But there are loads of instances of a creature or person being created in Blake. There is the creation of Urizen's physical form, which is dealt with in both The First Book of Urizen and The Book of Los. It's horribly violent and graphic with descriptions of 'hurtling bones'. Later Blake says, "A vast spine writhed in torment".

    What do you think is the significance of these creations in Blake? Is it linked in to his battle with religion and God? Is it to do with his views on energy and how a physical form restricts, even as it allows shape and purpose? Are these creations positive or negative or, as so often is the case in Blake, are they neither one or the other? I would love to read your views on this as I got quite immersed in this stuff when I was studying Blake but I think I ended up going in too many directions with it and confusing myself.

    I'll leave it at that for now because I think this will be a pretty long post. I'm sorry if I seem to be rambling. I just decided to write down some of the things that came to mind as I was reading your post.
    If you'd like to talk about Blake I promise I'll keep checking this thread. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=45098

  10. #10
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I like that you mentioned Mary Wollstonecraft as an influence on Blake a couple of times. When I did my Romanticism course at uni we had to write two essays for it. I wrote about Blake and Wollstonecraft. I think part of the reason they both appealed to me was the fact that they held some similar views and ideas.

    Freedom of sexuality was one of these... and I have come across some intimations that there may even have been an affair between William and Mary. I recently came across a scholarly volume exploring the themes of sexuality in Blake's art and writing which suggest that at the time of his death his papers may have included drawings, paintings, and writings that were even far more outrageous in terms of the expression of certain ideas on sexuality, religion, and politics... but that these were destroyed by executors... in an auto de fe not unlike that in which John Ruskin destroyed a great part of J.M.W. Turner's erotic drawings and watercolors.

    Around the time that Blake illustrated Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life he also illustrated Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden. How much of an influence do you think Darwin had on Blake? They both use the personification of plants and their sexuality to quite a large extent (obviously Darwin more so than Blake) in their poetry. I know the purpose was very different. Darwin wanted to portray plants and their reproduction - and botany in general - in a technically accurate but also poetic way. Blake was not so interested in science and technicalities and wanted, perhaps, to show the constraints of the social conventions and jealousy of the time on something that should be natural.

    I was not aware of Darwin, but having read a bit upon him I can almost imagine that the two may have got along quite well and certainly traded ideas. Like Blake, Darwin regretted that a good education had not been readily available and offered to women (although he built much of his theories upon Locke and Rousseau whom Blake repeatedly repudiated). A brief bio on Darwin reveals that his poetry was much admired by Coleridge and Wordworth and I can only guess that Blake would certainly have been more than intrigued by the notions of the anthropomorphic aspects of nature... especially sexuality. Blake sees sexuality as one of the forces that exists throughout nature and which orthodox thinking and religion has attempted to conceal... control... and stigmatize. Looking further into The Botanic Garden I've discovered that not only did Blake produce some engravings for the work but also Henry Fuseli... his great artistic mentor/predecessor. Considering that Blake was self-taught and often drawn to esoteric or uncommon sources (for the time) including Swedenborg and the writings of various religious and political revolutionaries... as well as Indian, Persian, and even Icelandic mythologies... the connection between Blake and Darwin is certainly worth further exploration.

    Something that is also connected to this is the continual forging of bodies in Blake... there are loads of instances of a creature or person being created in Blake. There is the creation of Urizen's physical form, which is dealt with in both The First Book of Urizen and The Book of Los. It's horribly violent and graphic with descriptions of 'hurtling bones'. Later Blake says, "A vast spine writhed in torment".

    In part, I suspect these images owe much to Blake's own experiences as an artist. He continually refers to imagination and creation as the greatest of human endeavors... something comparable with the creation of God. At the same time he recognizes that such creation is of born through great effort... struggle... labor. As an engraver he knew the labor of cutting through the less than willing plates of copper. He almost certainly would have known and respected the physical labor of metal-workers and sculptors. One somewhat suspects that he saw a similar struggle involved in the labors of human reproduction... in sexuality and childbirth which surely echo his own concept of contraries... and the necessity of such contrasts.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  11. #11
    Love, peace & harmony sadparadise's Avatar
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    My favorite Blake poem is Nurses Song. I like The Sick Rose too. Blake and I share the same birth date (Nov 28th).

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    I came to this thread for one of the reasons you began it! I found (and purchased) a wonderfully pretty 1911 print of his complete verse, but it's such a large volume that I'm really not sure what to start with! I've look through the obvious ones: The Tyger, The Lamb etc. Now I need to find time to sit and read one of his lengthier poems...

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    I'm working in Peckham at the moment where Blake saw his vision of the Angels in the tree. Not sure what he would make of the place now.....

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