(28 November 1757 - 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker.
His work is notable for being at once highly religious and very critical of the established churches and traditions.
Many of his poems take place in a Verse
of Blake's own invention, peopled with original mythological characters
By most accounts, he suffered frequent bouts of hallucinatory madness which often served as inspiration for his work. He may have been schizophrenic. It's also been suggested that he had what is known as a bicameral mind, wherein information is exchanged between the subconscious and conscious mind in the form of visions of gods and spirits, supposedly more common in ancient peoples, rather than the more linear thought processes most peoples' brains have evolved. This could have been the result of a mental illness or brain defect of some kind.
Blake is also generally regarded as one of the earliest anarchists
(e.g. by Peter Marshall in William Blake: Visionary Anarchist
), and is also noted for opposing slavery and championing free love
decades or even centuries before either became particularly common. The lines from the Preface to his long poem Milton
beginning And did those feet in Ancient Time
, set to music by Hubert Parry, is a strong contender for England's national anthem and is indeed sung in this capacity at international sporting events. note
His poems include:
- Songs of Innocence and of Experience
- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
- The Four Zoas (his longest, about 100 pages)
- The "Bible of Hell" sequence, which aimed to retell the creation story in the terms of Blake's Mythopoeia:
- The Book of Urizen
- The Book of Ahania
- The Book of Los
- Milton, a Poem
- The preface to Milton includes the short poem "And did those feet in ancient time", adapted into the hymn "Jerusalem" (not to be confused with Blake's epic poem Jerusalem, as seen below) by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. This hymn is now considered one of England's greatest candidates to a national anthem, and is a staple at the Last Night of the Proms. Emerson, Lake & Palmer opens their album Brain Salad Surgery with a Cover Version.
- The hymn was also used in the opening of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
- Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion
Tropes found in the Poems:
- Alien Geometries: Tons of these. Morphing spheres, interdimensional vortexes, and intersecting planes of of existence abound.
- Apocalypse How: One hinted at at the end of Milton, which finally happens in Jerusalem. A Class X - 5, bordering on a class Z. But this is a good thing, allowing us to return to our eternal, non-physical states of being. YMMV on how literally this should be interpreted.
- Arcadia: "The Shepherd" is set in one.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Ideally.
- Assimilation Plot: In the attempt to resurrect Albion.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Depends how much of one you consider there to be. Blake is very conscious that you're holding a book.
- Chaotic Good: Discussed the idea centuries before it was named - essentially, he argues that Lawful Good is an oxymoron by nature, since following rules obviates the individual of moral authority. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell reaches its climax with the following: "I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments; Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules."
- Comic Books: Blake's comibnation of narrative and visual storytelling going above simple illustration has led some (including Alan Moore) so cite Blake's work as a proto-example of the Graphic Novel.
- Design Student's Orgasm: Every page of his illuminated books.
- Four Element Ensemble: The Zoas: Luvah = Fire; Urizen = Air; Tharmas = Water; Urthona = Earth.
- Also Urizen's sons in The Book of Urizen: Thiriel = Air; Utha = Water; Grodna = Earth; Fuzon = Fire.
- Gainax Ending - Surprisingly, somewhat averted. The rest of his narrative is so mind-screwy that the apocalyptic endings are rather comprehensible. Still bizarre though.
- A God Am I: Urizen certainly thinks so, being (in some versions) the first consciousness to emerge from eternity.
- God Is Evil: A worry usually articulated through the Demiurge figure of Urizen.
- Gnosticism: His cosmology is practically made of this.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Urizen does this to Fuzon.
- Long List: All over the place.
- Mind Screw: This too.
- Mind Screwdriver: Infuriatingly averted by Blake himself. There's a whole critical industry dedicated to providing one though.
- Mythopoeia: A rare non fantasy/sci-fi example.
- Nightmare Fuel: Both the poems and his artwork.
- The Old Gods: The Four Zoas are this not only to Blake's eternals, but to all human gods, angels and demons, a few of whom cameo.
- Our Nudity Is Different: Expect illustrations of the characters to be uniformly starkers. May cross over with Author Appeal considering Blake was a practicing nudist.
- Punny Name: With his 'eternals', usually with some indication to their symbolic role within the story. Urizen = Horizon/Your Reason; Luvah = Lover; etc.
- Red Shirt: Thulloh is killed by Satan less than ten lines after his introduction.
- Reality Warper: Many characters, but particularly Urizen.
- Romanticism: One of the Big Six of the English school, along with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Satan: As we know him, and also as an independent character of Blake's cosmology, as Urizen's time-bound form.
- Spoken Word in Music: His poetry has been revisioned by artistes including Van Morrison.
- The Preface to Jerusalem has been set to music and is a serious contender for National Anthem, if Britain ever becomes a republic.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: A literal example in Milton. See the Alien Geometries above.
- Ultimate Evil: The Covering Cherub.
- The Verse Good luck on trying to find out what it all means
William Blake in fiction:
- One of the protagonists of Dead Man is a Blake fan, and quotes him extensively.
- Revenge quotes his famous Infinite/Perception statement in the episode 'Perception'
- From Hell reveals that his famous portrait of a monster "The Ghost of a Flea" was actually a portrait of the ghost of Sir William Gull, aka Jack the Ripper.