This MLA essay highlights the life and major works of poet, William Blake. It highlights his imaginative poetry and inspiration from religious themes. This sample essay was written at the undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
The Poetic Biography of William Blake
One of the world’s greatest poets to have ever written is certainly William Blake. The religious, mystic, prophet, and naturalist writer told all through his poetry of the profound spiritual and imaginal properties that exist within man all while inspiring others to know more about God, Love, and the world at large. Even though it was once believed that this man was not more than a child’s poetry writer, William Blake is a must know poet for all who wish to know more about living fully and spiritual philosophy. His stylistic combination of poetry and religion alone is worth closer examination.
The life of William Blake began in 1957 on November 28 in London to a James and Catherine Blake. With two siblings dying early in life and spiritual visions of God ‘putting his head to the window’, Blake’s upbringing was saturated with challenging and uplifting experience (Academy of American Poets). When he walked in the country and saw a tree filled with angels, his parents tried to discourage the young boy from ‘lying’ yet eventually they conceded he was quite different and thus didn’t have to go to regular children’s school. Thus, it began that for most of Blake’s excellent career that he was self-taught. Learning to read, write, compose poetry, in English as a child at home, he would continue to teach himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian so that he could read classical works in their original language as an adult (Academy of American Poets). Nevertheless, he still received some schooling from art schools that were attended so that he could learn to paint and engrave, skills which he would both use later in life as a main way to keep income going while simultaneously writing poetry and drawing (Academy of American Poets). His work would emblazoned in British literary canon.
Works of Blake
Alexander Gilchrist, author of Life of William Blake, has warned that Blake wrote in a style and with a content matter that far exceeded the thought, belief, and expectations of his and even this Day. He says Blake “neither wrote nor drew for the many, hardly for work’y day men at all, rather for children angels; himself ‘a divine child’ whose plaything were sun, moon, and stars” (Poetry Foundation). Two of his most notable works relate his disposition towards childhood and adulthood. These are, Songs of Innocence (1789), lyrics of poetry about youth, eternal and physical, and Songs of Experience (1794), poetry of later in life when the innocence of youth is challenged by the nitty and gritty of the world and the passage of the sands of time (Bentley). Below is William Blake’s opening drawing to Songs of Innocence along with The Chimney Sweeper poem, which revels in the tragedy, and wonderment that is Childhood.
When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!’ ” So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep. There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved: so I said, “Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”
And so he was quiet, & that very night, As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight! That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack, Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.
And by came an Angel who had a bright key, And he opened the coffins & set them all free; (Blake). Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run, And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
Then naked & white, all their bags left behind, They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind. And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father & never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark, And got with our bags & our brushes to work. Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm; So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm. (Pinsky)
This side of the Chimney Sweep tells of how an innocent boy comes to accept his hardships thanks to the faith and inspiration he receives from a friend’s dream. Vicariously, Tom can live as though he himself had had a dream of heaven. This gives him the strength to accept life as unfair as it seems since there is to be a reward in the end. The later story of “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Experience tells of a very different perspective from this Chimney Sweep, perhaps disheartened by a lack of comfort and fulfillment in the ideals of youth.
“A little black thing among the snow, Crying ” ‘weep! ‘weep!” in notes of woe! “Where are thy father and mother? say?”— “They are both gone up to the church to pray.
“Because I was happy upon the heath, And smiled among the winter’s snow, They clothed me in the clothes of death, And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
“And because I am happy and dance and sing, They think they have done me no injury, And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King, Who make up a heaven of our misery.”
The sincerity and simplicity of the art and poetry lyrics perfectly meld to show two sides of possibly the same story. The innocent perspective seems to have transcended the situation at hand while the experienced one is clearly entrenched in woe. The art of each book is distinctly different with the innocent book.
Inspiration and Imagination
The life and imagination of William Blake are shown to be the wells used to create such lovely pieces of art. For instance, in 1787, one of Blake’s most devastating experiences happened as his brother Robert died from tuberculosis at age 2 (Biography.com Editors). This loss was apparently accompanied by the experience of his brother rising out of his expired shell and into the ceiling, most joyously. The moment of Robert’s passing had a lasting impact on his perception of death and consequently involvement in life. The attributes of death in poetry are the world’s oldest literary device.
Visions of this sort were a common experience for Blake and a great deal of his writings concern the nature and end result of the spiritual and shadowing forces that have an impact on the lives of humans and the society that they create (Blake). He reported also at an early age to have seen the prophet Ezekiel however he rarely met eye to eye with the hypocritical nature of the church. In one of his poems, he says in his poem “The Everlasting Gospel” that “Both read the Bible day and night, But thou Read’st Black where I read White” (Bentley).
This brings one to Blake’s prime thesis regarding matters of spirituality and evolution, the problem of the demiurge. A Demiurge is a sinister deity god who is a tyrant unto his subjects and rules through fear and oppression. Blake, while very spiritual and devout unto God, envisioned a universe where multiple aspects of God could have interactions with themselves to create conflict and/or harmony. In his Genesis of the Universe, Blake posits there are a myriad of elemental forces and principles that existed in chaos although not in a negative sense. That is until, Urizen, a god whose name actually means ‘your reason’, refused to participate with the universe’s chaos. Instead, he chose to retreat into himself until he emerged again with his creation, a book of Law stating “one command, one joy, one desire/one Curse, one weight, one measure/ One King, One God, one Law” (Lieder).
The other Gods did not accept this rule, obviously, and thus bound Urizen and cast him down onto the Earth in a tale akin to what happened to Satan after he tried to take God’s crown. The Spirit, Los, meaning imagination, binds Urizen in chains, which he then uses in a dream like state as he binds his infinite potential into finite matter (Lieder). Eventually, he awakes from the dream to a world where none of the creatures he has created obey his singular will and thus he creates a net to bind the eyes of humans so that none may see the infinitudes of past. Only science and religion prevail, and the result is a deadening of life’s diversity and potential for the sake of conformity and contro (Lieder).
Intriguingly, in their fight to resist Urizen, the eternals fall from their own state of Grace and thus become chained tyrants themselves. The result is the spell where humans live in duality where choices and identities become composed of either/or thinking and infinite possibility is seemingly gone or clouded away yet as infinity can never truly be lost this is just an illusion enforced by ‘your reason’ (Lieder). Ultimately, it would be solely imagination, Los, who would return the lost eternals and world to the state of Grace and freedom once known.
Bringing Poetry to the People
Even though misunderstood by many, Blake sincerely wished that his poetry and works would be received by the people.
“To see a world in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour” (Bentley).
he sublime intentions did not pan out as he desired in his life time. Much of what he created was deemed heretical and the Urizen he had prophesized about kept many a person from realizing the stroke of his genius. He writes, “The Vision of Christ that thou dost See, Is my Visions Greatest Enemy…” (Bentley). Indeed, people’s fear and trepidation to explore that which is unfamiliar for the sake of preserving the structure of their duality was difficult for Blake. Although he had his side job as an artist to keep him going, most of his poetry did not receive acclaim until post-mortem, a curse many a genius and prophet has been dealt. To the right, one may see the Satan, Sin, and Death, a commissioned art piece of Blakes done for the famous Paradise Lost, which consisted of blank verse, for John Milton. Thus, his contribution though unrecognized until late afforded him some artist satisfaction in life.
The artistry and brilliance are truly a wonder to behold. Looking at his works can provide penetrating insight into many of the forces and ideas which humanity has been enthralled or ruled by for millennia. His influence and works though well beyond the scope of one essay do overall consistently point to the importance of imagination in making paradise for all. One can find many resources and direct texts on and from Blake now at almost all libraries on and off line. For more essay on William Blake or other poets, order a custom biographical essay from our essay writing service.
Academy of American Poets. William Blake. Poets.org, n.d. Web. August 23, 2016. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/william-blake.
Bentley, G. E. William Blake. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016. Web. https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Blake.
Biography.com Editors. William Blake Biography. Biography, 2016. Web. http://www.biography.com/people/william-blake-9214491#later-years.
Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and Experience. Blake Archive, 2016. Web. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=songsie.v.illbk.53&java=no.
LIederman, Daniil. Evil and Urizen: William Blake’s Visions of a Demiurge. Deliriums Realms: Essays on Good and Evil, n.d. Web. http://www.deliriumsrealm.com/william-blake-book-of-urizen/.
Pinksy, Robert. A Perfect Discomfit. Slate.com, 2010. Web. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/poem/2010/09/a_perfect_discomfit.html.
Poetry Foundation. William Blake. Poetry Foundation, 2016. Web. August 23, 2016. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/william-blake.