The Art and Poetry of William Blake

No one writer has had a more profound impact on me than William Blake. William Blake lived a life in obscurity in England during the 1700s, largely misunderstood and some even considered ‘mad.’ Though, disputed, William Blake’s art and poetry can be considered utter and pure genius.

He was known for getting into brawls and even leading the life of a nudist, William Blake led a life of great intrigue for someone who had to abide by the norms of an oppressive and ‘proper’ society. His ideas were so out of the box at his time, it is only in our contemporary days can we fully appreciate the complete and vivid beauty of his art and poetry combined, without the judgement that people of his time held against him.

He married the love of his life, but the marriage did not bear children. It is said that his wife, Catherine, is the reason that they did not sink into complete poverty… she kept track of their finances and oversaw his art. She would occasionally present her husband with an empty dinner plate to ensure that he had the right appetite for producing great art… A bit extreme, but William Blake’s life was nothing but an extreme presentation of the meaning of life itself.

William Blake’s flair for the eccentric was focused on living “larger than life” day to day. If one could say someone breathed life into an object, this would be the sum total of all of his art and poetry. His work was his legacy. A unique and stunning combination of his writings with his art display an interest in transcending the solemnity of words by combining the spirit of his words with the imagery he wanted to associate with it. This, to me, is where I have become most enamored with his work.

Being an English major, I had never seen something so unique before: a writer who needed to express his poetry by painting. The poetry doesn’t feel the same without the painting associated to it – this is where the spirit transcends form and that is the space where William Blake’s genius inhabits. William Blake transcended the intellectual limits of his time and became limitless this way. While he may have been a 17th century writer, his messages were timeless. His writings reflect the complex multiplicities of the human mind.

The value in his art and poetry is invaluable. Most of his writings are available to the public at the Tate Museum in London. I came across a rare copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience at City Lights in San Francisco, which was a book published by the Tate. I took the book to show to my English professor in college to inquire how rare the book is. He informed me that it is indeed a rare copy of his works and that my professor was well aware of the program at the Tate which organizes the William Blake archives. The original works by William Blake are precious and should continue being treasured, but on display for public access. There is so much to learn and love about the works of William Blake. I will always learn something new each time I pick up his books.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake circa 1786, Tate Museum, London.
Jerusalem, Plate 53, “Jerusalem / Chap. 3,” 1820.
William Blake’s only known self portrait.

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