WILLIAM BLAKE – Born November 28, 1757 in Soho, London.
Died August 12, 1827 in Westminster, London.
When William Blake was four years old he screamed because he saw God put his forehead against the window. At eight, when he was walking in the fields, he beheld “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough with stars.” Even the year of his birth was prophetic, Swedenborg, whose mystical philosophy was an answer to eighteenth-century rationalism, had predicted that the old world would end and a new one begin in the year 1757.
Blake’s gift of vision may have seemed strange in the London hosiery shop which was his home; but his father was of Irish descent, and the family were Swedenborgians. Blake was never sent to school. Apprenticed as a child to an engraver, he found his own way into art and literature. Between his twelfth and twentieth year he wrote a series of poems as amazing as anything in English literature. Seemingly imitative of his predecessors, and in particular of the Elizabethan and Jacobean song writers, he surpassed all but the very greatest in his youthful Poetical Sketches. Such poems as the song; “How sweet I roamed from field to field,” reputedly written before Blake was fourteen, the song; “My silks and fine array,” To The Evening Star, and To The Muses carry on the tradition of English lyrics. But they add a new purity, they enrich the language with unexplainable perfection. These early poems may be re-examined as a “bridge” between the Elizabethan Renaissance and the Romantic Revival of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats; but their glory is their own, a miraculous mingling of quiet beauty and breathless ecstasy.
SONG; HOW SWEET I ROAMED
How sweet I roamed field to field
And fasted all the summer’s pride.
Till I the prince of love beheld
Who in the sunny beams did glide!
He showed me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair
Where all his golden pleasures grow.
With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
And Phoebus fired my vocal rage;
He caught me in his silken net,
And shut me in his golden cage.
He loves to sit and hear me sing,
Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
And mocks my loss of liberty.
Ah, Sunflower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveler’s journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go.
THE SICK ROSE
O rose, thou art sick;
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind does move
I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart;
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears,
Ah! she did depart:
Soon as she was gone from me,
A traveler came by,
He took her with a sigh.
Subsisting on a level a little above poverty, unrecognized by his contemporaries, Blake filled his seventy years with relentless creation. One purpose impelled his energy; the regeneration of man. The intensity of his belief animated every piece of prose and verse, every drawing, engraving, and water colour; he invented a whole mythology to expound it. Some of Blake’s work is charged with clear meaning, some of it is too clairvoyant for immediate comprehension. But his poetry is so often unadulterated that, as A. E. Housman wrote, “Nothing except poetic emotion is perceived and matters.” One editor after another has attempted to explore Blake’s mind and explain the man. But the depths are always just beyond in this “most poetical of all poets,” and Blake remains unfathomable, as pure as he is inexplicable.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the above Poems, as much as I have enjoyed typing them. As Blake’s work is so beautiful I have chosen just to concentrate on him this week.
Have a good weekend, wherever you may roam, whatever you may do, stay safe.
Time Stands Still: Elizabethan and Jacobean Songs. (Thanks to Expedition Audio)