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William Blake

A look at the life of Romantic poet, painter, and visionary.

James Richardson

on 21 September 2014

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Transcript of William Blake

James Richardson
William Blake
What have we learned?
By the end of the session, you will be able to:

See the value of historical context and the meaning it can add to an artist's work

Analyse and compare some of Blake's poems

Consider and discuss ideas you have interpreted from the texts
What movement was Blake a member of?

What was that movement a reaction to?

What are alliteration and assonance?

Are the themes explored in The Sick Rose still relevant today?
Who was he?

What do we know about him?
Poet, painter and printmaker

Original rebel artist

Romantic and visionary
Believed that the things in his head were just as important as things in the material world

Had spiritual visions, first at age 6 when he saw angels in a tree on Peckham Rye and these continued for the rest of his life

Out of step with the time in which he lived: Blake was an idealist, not a realist
Relationship with Christianity

He was baptised, but that was about it for Blake and religion, though he always remained extremely spiritual and devoted to the bible

As a result, there are many biblical references in his work
The Enlightenment
Out of step, born during the ‘Age of Reason’; when science and rational thinking were causing people to raise questions about previously held beliefs

Romanticism was partly a reaction to the Enlightenment and Blake explored the struggle between it and 'Free love'

Blake saw Newton and the other Enlightenment thinkers as enemies of the imagination: rationalizing the mystical
Newton, c.1795
Overlooked and unappreciated in his own time, seen as mad by his contemporaries

Often struggled financially

Embraced by the 60s generation for his imagination, artistic innovation, and association with Free love
Mission to protect what he saw as the soul of England, and try to capture the spirit of the nation in his work

Composed the poem Jerusalem which was later set to music by Elgar, but also wrote many poems about social deprivation

Many allusions to Christian imagery, integral part of his work
Spiritual & Artistic Mission
One of Blake’s most famous works

Collection of poems and prints looking at two different viewpoints

Many of the poems fall into pairs, often looking at the same situation from different perspectives
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
The Sick Rose

O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm.
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Love seeketh not Itself to please.
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease.
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattles feet;
But a Pebble of the brook.
Warbled out these metres meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight;
Joys in another loss of ease.
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.
Analysing poetry is really straightforward, it’s just saying what you think about the text

There is no right or wrong answer


Whatever you read between the lines, you have to explain!
Self Portrait
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman
clothed with the Sun, c.1805
Etching and printing process
The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
Once took part in a riot (on his way to work) that stormed and set fire to Newgate Prison and freed the inmates.
Greatly influenced by the ideals of the French and American revolutions.
Romantic with a
capital 'R'
This doesn't mean Blake just wrote love poems for his wife, Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement c.1770-1848
by Thomas Phillips c.1807
Always fighting the machine!
Son of a hosier
Born and lived almost all of his life in London
His parents were Dissenters and opposed the Church of England
Left school at age 10 having only learnt to read and write but was probably home-schooled by his mother
Studied under Joshua Reynolds at the Royal Academy but fell out
Was taught engraving by a man called James Basire but also fell out with him
The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their
Crowns before the Divine Throne, c.1803-05
Elohim Creating Adam, c.1795
The Ancient of Days, c.1794
Albion Rose, c.1795
Sir Isaac Newton, 1643-1727
What does the worm or caterpillar symbolize?

What sort of view does the speaker seem to take on love/ sex?

Let's compare The Sick Rose with its Innocence twin, The Blossom...
Things to consider
The Blossom

Merry Merry Sparrow
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Sees you swift as arrow
Seek your cradle narrow
Near my Bosom.

Pretty Pretty Robin
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Hears you sobbing sobbing
Pretty Pretty Robin
Near my Bosom.
Things to consider
Why do you think Blake uses repetition in The Tyger?

What is the answer to the question in line 20, "Did he who made the lamb make thee?" Why does the speaker ask this question? Who is "he"?

What is the significance of the references to "fire", "burning", and the "furnace"?

What is the tiger like that Blake has depicted?
Things to consider
Looking at the artwork, what comparisons can be drawn about nature?

How many examples of alliteration and assonance can you find?

What do you think the view of love is in the poem?
Things to consider
How are the "child", the "lamb", and Christ "the lamb" set in relation to each other?

What comparison or similarity do you think Blake is drawing between the three?

Can you find five examples of alliteration and assonance?
Thank you!
Poetic terms
Alliteration- the effect created when words beginning with the same letter or sound (normally a consonant) are used near one another. e.g. "I am the very model of a modern Major-General".

Assonance- the effect created when words that have the same vowel sound in the middle are used near one another. e.g. "Try to light the fire."

Rhyme- when the vowel and the consonant sounds on the ends of words match. e.g. "One in Huyton and one in New Brighton."
Old Newgate Prison
The Gordon Riots, 1780
Group task
Two groups: the Tygers and the Lambs, read your team's poem and mind map everything it makes you think about or reminds you of. Remember, there are no wrong answers. Try and find as many examples of alliteration and assonance as you can. At the end, we'll discuss each team's conclusions
Full transcript