Monday Muse – William Blake

I’ve not featured too many poets on here, a severe oversight on my part, as poetry can be inspiring to any creative person, not just other poets. I was quite young when I first became aware of Blake and his writing and painting and it has stuck with me through the years. There’s something provocative and memorable about it. It also helped, I think, that I discovered him on my own, outside of school. Nothing sucks the life and beauty out of art worse than studying it in school!

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William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English painter, poet and printmaker and like many famous artists was unrecognised in his time. From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions — at four he saw God “put his head to the window”; around age nine, while walking through the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels.

In 1782, he married an illiterate woman named Catherine Boucher. Blake taught her to read and to write, and also instructed her in draftsmanship. Later, she helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today.

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Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions.

Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by common people, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular.

The bell struck one, and shook the silent tower;
The graves give up their dead: fair Elenor
Walk’d by the castle gate, and lookèd in.
A hollow groan ran thro’ the dreary vaults.
She shriek’d aloud, and sunk upon the steps,
On the cold stone her pale cheeks. Sickly smells
Of death issue as from a sepulchre,
And all is silent but the sighing vaults.

Chill Death withdraws his hand, and she revives;
Amaz’d, she finds herself upon her feet,
And, like a ghost, thro’ narrow passages
Walking, feeling the cold walls with her hands.

Fancy returns, and now she thinks of bones
And grinning skulls, and corruptible death
Wrapp’d in his shroud; and now fancies she hears
Deep sighs, and sees pale sickly ghosts gliding.

 

An excerpt from Fair Elanor

Maybe he would have enjoyed and taken comfort from the fact that he is appreciated and an inspiration today.

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