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William Blake

(1757-1827), Mystical poet and artist

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Summary

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His prophetic poetry has been said to form "what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language".

Born
Died
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Importance
November 28, 1757
London, England
August 12, 1827
London, England
Artists, Criticism (interpretation), England, English poetry, Great Britain
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Biography

The most famous of Blake's lyrical poems is Auguries of Innocence, with its memorable opening stanza:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

“I do not behold the outward creation… it is a hindrance and not action.” Thus William Blake—painter, engraver, and poet—explained why his work was filled with religious visions rather than with subjects from everyday life. Few people in his time realized that Blake expressed these visions with a talent that approached genius. He lived in near poverty and died unrecognized. Today, however, Blake is acclaimed one of England's great figures of art and literature and one of the most inspired and original painters of his time.

Blake was born on Nov. 28, 1757, in London. His father ran a hosiery shop. William, the third of five children, went to school only long enough to learn to read and write, and then he worked in the shop until he was 14. When he saw the boy's talent for drawing, Blake's father apprenticed him to an engraver.

At 25 Blake married Catherine Boucher. He taught her to read and write and to help him in his work. They had no children. They worked together to produce an edition of Blake's poems and drawings, called Songs of Innocence. Blake engraved both words and pictures on copper printing plates. Catherine made the printing impressions, hand-colored the pictures, and bound the books. The books sold slowly, for a few shillings each. Today a single copy is worth many thousands of dollars.

Blake's fame as an artist and engraver rests largely on a set of 21 copperplate etchings to illustrate the Book of Job in the Old Testament. However, he did much work for which other artists and engravers got the credit. Blake was a poor businessman, and he preferred to work on subjects of his own choice rather than on those that publishers assigned him. A follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, who offered a gentle and mystic interpretation of Christianity, Blake wrote poetry that largely reflects Swedenborgian views. Songs of Innocence (1789) shows life as it seems to innocent children. Songs of Experience (1794) tells of a mature person's realization of pain and terror in the universe. This book contains his famous ‘Tiger! Tiger! Burning Bright’. Milton (1804-08) and Jerusalem (1804-20) are longer and more obscure works. Blake died on Aug. 12, 1827.

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Quotes by William Blake

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Works about William Blake

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Influence of William Blake

Works published by William Blake

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Works published about William Blake

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