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William Blake

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Jeff Clapp

on 21 September 2015

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Transcript of William Blake

William Blake's Poetry of Paradox
Poet, Painter, Visionary
The Clod and the Pebble
And did those feet in ancient time...
The Lamb
The Tyger
Innocence and Experience
He had little formal education,
only an apprenticeship with an engraver and an obvious talent for art.
Born: 1757
Gone: 1827
Blake was a profoundly religious person, but he had unusual religious ideas, reinterpreting Christianity in ways that responded to his social and cultural context.
He spent much of his adulthood trying to get enough money so that he could have time do his work--a real life "starving artist."
A Poetry of Paradox
par·a·dox (a noun!)

: a situation in which the facts seem to contradict one another

: a statement that seems to say two opposite things, but which are both true
"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair."

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle's 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's loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite."
A central idea for today
Blake responded to his cultural CONTEXT by writing POEMS which create analogies between contemporary events and the Christian idea of a "fall" into sin, away from God.
Blake saw evidence of a "fall" everywhere around
him, including:

1) Poverty and industrialization
(the "Chimney Sweeper" poems and "London")

2) The rise of imperialism
("A Little Black Boy")

3) The rise of reason, science, and empiricism
("The Tyger")
Recent Historical Developments
Blake's Forms of Fall
Longterm Decline
Yet Blake also saw humanity's fall as an ongoing process. His evidence included:

1) The existence of authorities and laws

2) The division into two genders

3) Our limitation to five senses
"Jerusalem The Emanation of Giant Albion"
1 And did those feet in ancient time
2 Walk upon England's mountains green?
3 And was the holy Lamb of God
4 On England's pleasant pastures seen?

5 And did the Countenance Divine
6 Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
7 And was Jerusalem builded here
8 Among these dark Satanic mills?

9 Bring me my bow of burning gold:
10 Bring me my arrows of desire:
11 Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
12 Bring me my chariot of fire.

13 I will not cease from mental fight,
14 Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
15 Till we have built Jerusalem
16 In England's green and pleasant land.
In this poem, Blake imagines
a beautiful, Christian past for England.
Romantic writers often addressed contemporary paradoxes by remembering a rural, natural past.
But poem also shows Blake's fierce, revolutionary desire to use his writing to transform the world.
This poem has become a very popular song. Here it is sung by four pretty boys in identical grey suits:
This is Blake's most famous "Song of Innocence."
1794 onward
Blake began publishing the "Songs of Innocence" first. Later he added the "Songs of Experience" and published the two books as one.
What happened between these two times? Among other things, the French Revolution turned into a bloodbath, and Europe prepared for war.
This is Blake's most famous "Song of Experience." In fact, it is one of the most famous poems in English.
The poem shows total faith and hope.
In the first stanza, the speaker addresses a lamb, describing all that God has given to little lambs.
In the second stanza, the speaker makes sure that the lamb knows who God is, and how the speaker's worldview relates himself, the lamb, and God.
The poem addresses a terrifying tiger, who could have make something so fearsome.
The first and last stanzas are nearly identical. The second, third, and fourth stanzas ask about details of the tiger's terrible creation, using metalworking and factory imagery.
The fifth stanza connects the poem to "The Lamb" by asking what kind of God could create both of these animals.
The poem shows fear and confusion.
The Lamb and the Tiger: Comparing Innocence and Experience
Innocence: The Lamb
The poem progresses.
The speaker has answers.
The speaker loves the lamb.
God is good.
Experience: The Tiger
The poem is stuck.
The speaker asks questions.
The speaker fears the tiger.
God is mysterious or evil.
The "innocent" speaker has more answers than the "experienced" one.

This is an excellent example of Romantic thinking.
Fearful Symmetry
The paradox of "fearful symmetry" is one of Blake's crucial ideas.
Blake associated symmetry with geometry, with science, and with his arch-enemy, Isaac Newton.
He associated eyesight itself with symmetry, and with the enlightenment faith in the senses.
Sometimes, he even associated God with symmetry.
Blake uses typically Romantic imagery of fields, nature, and rural life.
Stanza 5 refers to the revolt of Satan, which created evil.
Adam and Eve committing the first sin in the Garden of Eden
William Blake is one of the earlier Romantic writers, artists, theologians, and philosophers.
The Clod
The Pebble
This poem presents a basic paradox:

The beautiful ideas come from the ugly clod,
while the ugly ideas come from the beautiful pebble.
A sense of paradox
In 1792, a man named Thomas Hardy founded a club to discuss England's problems. By 1794 he had been arrested and was being tried for treason. At his trial, a witness said that the purpose of the society was:
To enlighten the people, to show the people the reason, the ground of all their sufferings; when a man works hard for thirteen or fourteen hours of the day, the week through, and is not able to maintain his family...to show the ground of this; why they were not able.
The Making of the English Working Class, p. 165.
Reading for Tutorials!
On Moodle soon:

The story of Adam and Eve

The story of Prometheus
Full transcript