(b. Nov. 28, 1757, London – d. Aug. 12, 1827, London)
English poet, painter, engraver; one of the earliest and greatest
The most famous of Blake's lyrical poems is
Auguries of Innocence,
with its memorable opening stanza:
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.
“I do not behold the outward creation ... it is
a hindrance and not action.” Thus William Blake – painter,
engraver, and poet – explained why his work was filled with religious
visions rather than with subjects from everyday life. Few people in his time
realized that Blake expressed these visions with a talent that approached
genius. He lived in near poverty and died unrecognized. Today, however,
Blake is acclaimed one of England's great figures of art and literature
and one of the most inspired and original painters of his time.
Blake was born on Nov. 28, 1757, in London. His father
ran a hosiery shop. William, the third of five children, went to school
only long enough to learn to read and write, and then he worked in the shop
until he was 14. When he saw the boy's talent for drawing, Blake's father
apprenticed him to an engraver.
At 25 Blake married Catherine Boucher. He taught her to
read and write and to help him in his work. They had no children. They worked
together to produce an edition of Blake's poems and drawings, called
Songs of Innocence.
Blake engraved both words and pictures on copper printing plates. Catherine
made the printing impressions, hand-colored the pictures, and bound the
books. The books sold slowly, for a few shillings each. Today a single copy
is worth many thousands of dollars.
Blake's fame as an artist and engraver rests largely on
a set of 21 copperplate etchings to illustrate the Book of Job in the Old
Testament. However, he did much work for which other artists and engravers
got the credit. Blake was a poor businessman, and he preferred to work on
subjects of his own choice rather than on those that publishers assigned him.
A follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, who offered a gentle
and mystic interpretation of Christianity, Blake wrote poetry that largely
reflects Swedenborgian views.
Songs of Innocence
(1789) shows life as it seems to innocent children.
Songs of Experience
(1794) tells of a mature person's realization of pain and terror in the
universe. This book contains his famous ‘Tiger! Tiger! Burning
Milton (1804-08) and
are longer and more obscure works. Blake died on Aug. 12, 1827.