In his own time he was so eccentric his neighbors and friends thought hews a madman. As an engraver and illustrator he was caught between the decline of the guilds and the rise of industrialization. It was a time when men saw the value of their labors swept away from the cottage and into the factory under the watchful eye of the manager. For workers, the loss of autonomy, the shift in control and production, and the helplessness in the face of change led to a revolt against the Age of Reason and a rage against technologies it spawned. William Blake was born into this environment on this day in 1757. Two centuries later he would be recognized as both one whose vision, imagination and sensitivity were unmatched in the age of Romanticism, and a truly unique influence in the history of the Western world.
|William Blake Thomas Phillips, English, 1807|
Blake is by far one of the most interesting visionaries to come out of England and its traditions.I hopes you will take time to examine every aspect of his extraordinary contribution to western civilization.
The following works by Blake will stimulate your interest and imagination:
I wonder if students still read this poem in school?
|The Tyger William Blake, 1794|
In the following illustration Blake depicts his character Urizen [You rising] as reason shaping the world and its experience. This engraving is also interpreted as God the Father [and often God the Son] as divining existence. It is a prime example of the complex and often confounding world of Blake's imagination.
|The Ancient of Days William Blake, 1793|
Here, the Angel of Peace descends forcibly out of heaven illustrating God's reason (the dividers) brought into the world in the form of his Son to reconcile Nature (the recline female nude) and a redeemed humanity
|The Descent of Peace William Blake, ca. 1815|
Here Blake depicts Isaac Newton [and the Age of Reason] at the bottom of the sea shaping (the dividers, once more) the world of humankind on the earth. Newton has turned his back on the organic beauty of God's natural world.
|Newton William Blake, 1795|
One of Blake's most familiar pieces is his preface to Milton A Poem. The preface says much about Blake's philosophy opposing the Age of Reason as embodied in Greek and Roman thought and the dangers a reliance on intellect can bring to a world based equally on emotion. Furthermore, the preface is a perfect illustration of Blake's religious mysticism as well as his veneration of Milton.
Readers may be more familiar with Blake's poem through this medium:
I have learned much from the artist and philosopher, William Blake, in my struggle to balance life between intellect and emotion. So far it's been a beautiful, productive, and fascinating journey. If readers want to learn more about Blake, to me there's no finer work available than Jacob Bronowski's A Man Without A Mask, published in 1944, and it's updated version, William Blake and the Age of Revolution, published in 1972.