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Creator / William Blake

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Portrait by Thomas Philips, 1807

"I found them blind: I taught them to see
And now they know neither themselves nor me
'Tis excellent to turn a thorn to a pin
A fool to a bolt, a knave to a glass of gin."
William Blake, On F————— & S—————

William Blake (28 November 1757 - 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. His work is notable for being both highly religious and critical of established churches and traditions, and he is considered one of the major figures of Romanticism.

Many of his poems take place in a Verse of Blake's own invention, peopled with original mythological characters.

By most accounts, he had frequent visions which often served as inspiration for his work. 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 

Blake came in at #38 in One Hundred Greatest Britons.

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 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.
  • Audio Adaptation: His poetry has been revisioned by artistes including Van Morrison and Ulver (the latter of whom adapted The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in its entirety). Part of the Preface to Milton has been set to music and is a serious contender for National Anthem, if England ever becomes a republic.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Depends how much of one you consider there to be. Blake is very conscious that you're holding a book.
  • Comic Books: Blake's combination of narrative and visual storytelling going above simple illustration has led some (including Alan Moore) to cite Blake's work as a proto-example of the Graphic Novel.
  • Demiurge Archetype: Urizen serves as both a fallen satanic figure and the representative of law and reason. Urizen, believing himself to be holy, was exiled from the divine and created a universe in which his law ruled above all else. He represents uniformity, stifles creativity, and is the origin of both religious dogmatism and enlightenment rationalism.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Every page of his illuminated books.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: This happens in The Book of Urizen: Los overthrows the oppressive lawmaker deity Urizen, but later begins to similarly lose his creativity, with Orc appearing after that to overthrow him.
  • Gainax Ending: Downplayed. 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.
  • 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.
  • Panthera Awesome: "Tiger, Tiger, burning bright in the forest of the night..."
  • Punny Name: With his "eternals", usually with some indication of 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.
  • Religion Is Wrong: Played with in a highly idiosyncratic manner. The Book of Urizen has Urizen create "The Net of Religion" to entrap man's minds, while The Four Zoas ends with the words "The dark Religions are departed & sweet Science reigns". However, Blake was a devout, yet extremely unorthodox Anglican, so he was critical of how religious institutions stifled free thought and natural human desires, disliked the growing scientific materialism of the time, and had his idiosyncratic interpretation of Christian doctrine. Thus, his work reflects this trope as it does its opposite.