William Blake (U.K. 1757-1827)
(Presentation Outline - ENG 109 - Spring 2007)
Print Version: http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/eng109/blake_print.htm

Required background reading: --“The Nineteenth Century: Romantic Self & Social Reality"
Timeline, Introduction & Maps (Davis and others. 530-547)
--Introduction  to "William Blake" (Davis and others 865-868)

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."
--William Blake, "Proverbs of Hell," from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) 


A compendium of Blake's ideas in mixed genres (biblical prophesy, satire, autobiography, lyric, prose) that defy categorization;


Rejects frozen forms of social custom & literary convention (e.g. Neo-Classical "rules" of "decorum");


Challenges Enlightenment reliance on reason & on empiricism based on the five senses, which Blake believed stifle creative & spiritual energies;


Condemns religious doctrine that "outlaws the body and in so doing cuts off the spirit from the primary source of its energy" (Davis et al.,  Bedford Anthology 213).

"Without contraries there is no progression."


Blake's "bard"-- the poet-seer empowered with the dynamic vision of the prophetic imagination--can break from "mind-forg'd manacles" of institutional custom and convention; can embrace warring "contraries" of the material (physical) and spiritual (metaphysical), mind and body, reason and passion (intellect and heart); can "see the infinite in every thing" and awaken the vital poetic genius within all human beings (Davis et al.,  Bedford Anthology 212-213).

"I must invent my own system, or be enslaved by another man's.
I will not reason & compare: my business is to create."

--William Blake,
from Jerusalem (1804)

In great prophetic works like Jerusalem, Blake "envisioned a world set free from its political, social, and religious fetters by the power of the imagination" (Davis et al., Bedford Anthology 212).


Blake welcomed:
American Revolution & French Revolution: Phase 1 as heralds of a new millennium.


Blake criticized & rebelled against:
--Enlightenment faith in Reason & empirical philosophy;
--NeoClassical literary/aesthetic conventions & rules of "decorum";
--socio-economic evils of Industrial Revolution;
--injustice of political & religious institutions;
--hypocrisy of conventional morality

Songs of Innocence and Experience:
Shewing two contrary states of the Human Soul
(1789; 1794)


Authority of (individual) visionary imagination


Modes ("doors") of Perception: "Innocence" (~children) & "Experience" (~adults)
Fundamentally different ways of seeing, understanding the world  = "warring contraries"

Unfallen State of "Innocence"
associated with Childhood & its Joyful songs of uncorrupted energy

1. Visionary (knowing) > Close union with God & "true" divine nature
2. Wisdom = Intuitive understanding of Lamb's message
3. Infinite "Sensation" - innocent divine state not limited by 5 ordinary human senses
4. Love integrates self-others-God

Birth into & living in imperfect "fallen" world means children must grow up & "fall" into "Experience" - but as a necessary dialectical stage in progression toward salvation/ reunion with God.

Fallen State of "Experience"
associated with Adulthood, envisioned as inevitable & cyclical, and marked  . . .

--"by loss of childhood vitality,
--"by fear and inhibition,
--"by social and political corruption,
--"by oppression of Church, State, and the ruling classes"
(Damrosch et al.1392-1393).

1. & 2.  Division from close union with God and from our "true" divine nature; and in this "divided" state, access and/or receptivity to Visionary knowledge and intuitive Wisdom is lost or denied.
3. Reduction to Five Senses (vs. Infinite "Sensation" of state of Innocence)
4. Wrath
displaces Love, to fragment and throw into conflict self/others/God (formerly unified and integrated elements of our "true" nature)

Imagination--esp. of visionary poets--can recapture Visionary knowing, Wisdom, Infinite "Sensation," Love, & joyous energy of state of "Innocence."
Happiness & hope (of children) can re-awaken, recall "fallen" (adults) to "true" divine nature & union with God.

In-Class Discussion & Comparison/Contrast:

Assigned Songs of Innocence
[first published 1789]:

Assigned Songs of Experience
[first published 1794]:
pp. 869-870
"Introduction" & "Earth's Answer"
pp. 872-873
"The Lamb" p. 870 "The Tyger" pp. 874-875
"The Chimney Sweeper"pp. 871-872 "The Chimney Sweeper"p. 874

Works Cited & Recommended Resources

Agatucci, Cora, ed.  "William Blake."   Handout, English 109, Central Oregon Community
         College, Spring 2004. Online version: <http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/eng109/blake.htm>.

Damrosch, David, et al., eds. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Vol. B.  Compact ed.
         New York: Longman - Addison Wesley Longman, 2000.

Davis, Paul, et al., ed. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature:The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1900
        Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2003.

Davis, Paul, and others, ed.  Western Literature in a World Context. Vol. 2: The Enlightenment through
         the Present. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.  

World Literature Online.  Companion web site for The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Eds.
        Paul Davis, et al.  Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2003. 5 April 2004
        < http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/worldlit/ >.

LitLinks from World Literature Online
URL: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/worldlit/default.asp?c=litlinks
Pathway:  Litlinks > Book 5, The Nineteenth Century > Europe: Industry and Nationalism > William Blake

"Throughout his life, [William Blake] experienced mystical visions that provided him with the inspiration for many of his poems. Blake devised a process he called illuminated printing, which involved the preparation of drawings and decorative frames to complement his poems. He published Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) in this fashion. These books, as well as the many subsequent works he wrote and illustrated, earned him a reputation as one of the most important artists of his day.
    "Many of Blake's works assert his conviction that the established church and state hinder rather than nurture human freedom and the sense of divine love."

The William Blake Archives
URL: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/blake/

Expansive "hypermedia archive" presents many of Blake's illuminated plates and includes a useful bibliography of works on Blake.

The Blake Digital Text Project
URL: http://www.english.uga.edu/wblake/home1.html

This site, maintained by the University of Georgia at Athens English Department, contains links to the Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake and the images of Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

William Blake Online from the Tate Online
URL: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/blakeinteractive

This extensive site provides an e–dictionary of Blake’s characters, links to the full text of some of his works, a map of Blake’s London, and interactive learning tools and activities about the author.

The Motco Project: The Preston Blake Collection
URL: http://www.motco.com/blake-william

This site features material from the Preston Blake Collection, the largest library collection of Blake’s work in the United Kingdom.

University of Toronto: Selected Poetry of William Blake
URL: http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poet24.html

This archive at the University of Toronto’s Representative Poetry Online site features more than forty of Blake’s poems.

SPRING 2007 ENG 109 Syllabus | Course Plan | ENG 109 Home Page

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