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William Blake

About William Blake

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) is one of the six great Romantic poets, along with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. He is one of the few figures in history to be studied for his accomplishments in multiple fields, as he was also a printmaker and painter that holds a place in the canon for studiers of art.

Blake’s most famous work is The Songs of Innocence and Experience – a volume he originally released in two parts (Innocence and Experience) but later combined. He made prints and created the volumes by hand so, while the actual copies he made weren’t widely sold, they are highly valuable. Every poem in the volume is accompanied by an image and some poems actually have different colorations that arguably change the meanings.

Blake’s poetry was extremely timely and often brutally vicious; while he was not hugely popular in his lifetime, largely due to his political radicalism and somewhat reclusive lifestyle that caused everyone to (perhaps rightly) view him as mad (but they say the line between genius and insanity is thin and he straddled the line). He was also was said to have had hallucinations, maybe drug-induced, and this is perhaps born out by the strange other-worldliness of his prints and paintings. His influence did seem to reach the other major Romantics, though none of them had much, if any, interaction with Blake or his poetry directly but his opinions and images were echoed by his peers (e.g. Blake was first to claim Milton was of the Devil’s party without knowing it, a view Byron and Shelley certainly shared; also, in “London” Blake has a line about “mind forg’d manacles” that became a popular concept).

Despite his wild political views, he actually lived a calm life. He believed in free love but only ever slept with his wife, et cetera. Therefore, Blake actually has what was arguably the least insane lifestory of the six Romantic poets, something that is reflected in his long life, with Blake not dying until he was 70 (whereas Keats died at 25, Shelley at 29, and Byron at 35). However, his wild views kept him out of the Poets' Corner until 1957 – a long interim period that he shares with the younger Romantics.

A couple of poems to start with are “The Tyger” and “London”; Blake is also the subject of an article about Deconstructionism on Lit Genius, where the abolitionist interpretation of “The Little Black Boy” is explained.