Friday, November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday 73

This week saw the 250th birthday of William Blake, who was born in London in 1757. When he was four he saw God's head appear in a window, later on he saw the prophet Ezekiel sitting in a field, and once came upon a tree full of angels. However, when he tried to tell his parents about these visions, his father threatened to beat him for lying, so he stopped mentioning such things and began drawing pictures instead. His work seemed so promising that his parents sent him to art school to become an engraver. Blake learnt how to engrave copper plates for printing illustrations in books, then went on to produce illustrations for books about botany, architecture and medicine. Since his work was so good he was commissioned to create his own illustrations for the work of Dante, Chaucer and selections from the Bible, which now are considered amongst the greatest works of engraving ever produced. Blake even invented a method of printing illustrations in colour, and art historians are still unsure how he did it.

Unfortunately, Blake's work as an illustrator grew more and more bizarre, until in the end he could only make a living by selling watercolours to a small group of private collectors.

However, Blake had also been writing poetry for most of his life, and since he had his own printing press, he decided to print it himself. He developed a process of writing his poems directly onto copper plates, then engraving illustrations around them. He would print a few dozen copies and stitch them into pamphlets, which he sold himself. His books got no attention in his lifetime and most critics dismissed him as a madman. He died in 1827, and it wasn't until 1863 that a biography about him persuaded people to read his poetry for the first time. Today, he's best known for the poems he wrote for children, Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794).

William Blake once wrote, "To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour."

He also said, "Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow."

This is one of his poems from Songs of Experience:


I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is over at Two Writing Teachers.


Jules at 7-Imp said...


And happy new year!

Jules, 7-Imp

Michele said...

Thank you - and Happy New Year to you too...