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William Blake 1757-1827

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Introduction

William Blake 1757-1827 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. ...read more.

Middle

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 among themselves, with their wives, and with views of reality different from their own. The best known of these so-called Prophetic Books (a title assigned to them by their early critics) are Milton (c. 1802-08) and Jerusalem (c. 1804-20), both engraved, and the unfinished Vala; or, The Four Zoas, written about the same time and discovered in manuscript only in 1893. Before doing these, Blake executed a number of so-called minor prophecies, which extend the concepts of innocence and experience, as in Tiriel (c. 1789, unengraved) and The Book of Thel (1789). Blake followed these with Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), in which he offers radical views on sex, religion, and politics. ...read more.

Conclusion

After his death on Aug. 12, 1827, and that of his wife four years later, Blake's works were dispersed, and some may have been destroyed. Blake's work was not well known in his lifetime, but his influence is apparent in the work of several painters who knew him when he was an old man, particularly Samuel Palmer. He also influenced the Pre-Raphaelite painters of the 19th century, and his first editor was W. B. Yeats, who knew much of his poetry by heart. James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Joyce Cary, among others, found inspiration in his writings, and he has had considerable influence on modern literary criticism through the work of Northrop Frye. Today Blake is one of the most frequently discussed poets. Of those who actually knew Blake, Palmer left the most interesting estimate of him: "In him you saw the Maker, the Inventor . . . He was energy itself and shed around him a kindling influence, an atmosphere of life, full of the idea. . . . He was a man without a mask." ...read more.

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