A poet and painter. William Blake. After an attempt to live in the country at Sussex, at the urging of the well intentioned, but mediocre poet, William Hayley; Blake feeling himself patronized and intruded upon, returned to London. On returning to London, he decided, he would be able to carry on his visionary studies unannoyed and ”converse with my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & prophesy & speak Parables unobserv’d & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals”.
In London, Blake did, in fact, produce a series of increasingly visionary, and to other eyes, decreasingly comprehensive works. The autobiographical ”Milton” was written and etched between 1804 and 1808, ”To Justify the Ways of God to Men” in forty- three plates. It calls on the young men of the new age to set their foreheads against the ”ignorant Hirelings” of camp, court, and university. ”Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion” , completed in 1820 , is a still more stupendous vision, set forth on ninety-nine tightly worded plates.
In the earlier ”Songs of Innocence and of Experience” he had been the most exquisite of lyric poets, but now he deserted conventional lyric forms to become what he called an ”orator” and prophet. Written in a kind of biblical free verse, his prophecies constantly shift their cadence and meter in accordance with the method he describes in the preface to Jerusalem:
”Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place; the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts, the mild & gentle for the mild & gentle parts, and the prosaic for the inferior parts; all are necessary to each other. Poetry Fetter’d Fetters the Human Race. Nations are Destroy’d or Flourish in proportion as Their Poetry, Painting and Music are Destroy’d or Flourish!”
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, most of these later poems were considered wanting in the quality of sanity and being devoid of logical coherence. However, thanks to James Joyce, Ezra Pound and others, different standards of coherence arose, but most of Blake’s contemporaries were understandably puzzled by these spellbinding incantations and great hectoring screeds, peopled with a cast of strange characters who represent psychic states in Blake’s self made mythology; Urize, Orc,Luvah, Urthona,Enitharmon, Oothoon, Rintrah and scores of others, whom now, at least, one can find duly catalogues and explained in S. Foster Damon’s ”Blake Dictionary”.
”But Blake cannot be contained in any dictonary. Even his simplest and clearest statements have vast implications behind them. I have merely untied some knots and shaken out some tangles in the Golden String… The important thing to remember is that he was always writing about the human soul. Blake is a challenge to every thinking person. He was so far ahead of his time that we are just catching up to him. Many of his once strange theories are now commonplaces to the psychologist” ( Damon )
Without the benefits of hindsight and Damon, it was no wonder that the London literati thought Blake a lunatic. It was common according to Crabb Robinson, that others would admire Blake’s designs and poetic talents while at the same time holding him for a decided madman.
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