Skip to main content

William Blake: poet, visionary, printmaker, painter


As David Caddy's 'Letters from Poetic England' note, this coming Sunday (12th) marks 180 years since the once overlooked, now seminal and hugely significant, poet William Blake's death. This year is also significant as it marks 250 years, come November 28th, since the poet was born. To mark the occasion, I thought I'd post this critical essay which I wrote sometime ago, exploring the social concern evident in arguably Blake's most important work, Songs of Innocence and of Experience. May Blake's memory remain as one of poetry's richest and most groundbreakingly subversive talents.


Social Criticism and Concern in Blake’s
Songs of Innocence and of Experience

In 1940, George Orwell, the great author and socio-political commentator, remarked of Blake’s ‘London’ that ‘there is more understanding of the nature of capitalist society in [this] poem… than in three-quarters of Socialist literature.’ Such a statement is neither unwarranted nor, arguably, hyperbolic: after reading an illuminated copy of the Songs, the politically-minded and liberalist poet Samuel Coleridge described Blake as ‘a man of Genius’, William Wordsworth and Charles Lamb bestowing him with similar praise. The social significance of Blake’s work then, particularly Songs of Innocence and of Experience, is undeniable: the poems throughout the book explore the complex relationship between meaning and morality, the often blurred lines between the two contrary states of innocence and experience, as well as pervasive and widespread corruption: of church and of state, of the decline of sociability or ‘brotherhood’, and of the dulling of our sensory perceptions through the inevitable ‘fall’ from innocence. In this essay then, I intend to consider some of Blake’s most poignantly sociological poems, and conclude that whilst Blake’s main social concerns lie within the increasingly narrowing, claustrophobically subjective world that he presents (and witnessed as a lifelong Londoner), he nonetheless offers us a way out, through a revised sense of fraternity, sexuality, and objective awareness, which, he believes, will ultimately ‘cleanse the doors of perception [and make] everything appear to Man as it is, Infinite’.

[rest of essay removed: 08/02/2008]


Bibliography

Blake, William, Songs of Innocence and of Experience ed. Richard Willmott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)

Blake, William, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (UK: Dover Publications, 1994)

Ferber, Michael, ‘“London” and its Politics’, ELH, Volume 48, No.2 (Summer, 1981) pp.310-338

Orwell, George, ‘Charles Dickens’ (1940), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968)

Wimsatt, William, Hateful Contraries (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965)

Wu, Duncan, Romanticism: An Anthology, 3rd Edition (UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2006)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Way More Than Luck: 27.2.18 - the launch

Some tips on putting your pamphlet together — winner of the 2013/14 International Book & Pamphlet Competition

There's only this weekend left to submit your pamphlet of poems to the most prestigious pamphlet competition in the land: The Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition 2020

This year's judges are the hugely celebrated writers Imtiaz Dharker and Ian McMillan. Find out more, and enter online, here. You've got until midnight this Sunday 1st March.

Here are some tips I've put together, as winner of the 2013/14 competition for my short collection For Real. Good luck!

• First off, I should mention it took me a good few years to get the pamphlet into shape, and like almost every winner, I entered the competition more than once before winning. Treat the experience as a learning curve: the positive pressure of a deadline and of your work being judged carefully and seriously will help you to improve whatever the outcome.

• Front-load your pamphlet. Every editor in the land knows that you put the very best poems at the front of a book. The first three poems in your pamphlet s…

Poetry in Motion

POETRY IN MOTION
Why one Reds supporter is committing his love for Liverpool FC to verse


Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land, to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood the test of time because t…