‘Those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled’ William Blake
Patti Smith introduces her favourite selection of Blake’s poems, including the complete poems from Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
William Blake is one of Britain’s most fascinating writers, who, as well as being a groundbreaking poet, is also well known as a painter, engraver, radical and mystic. Although Blake was dismissed as an eccentric by his contemporaries, his powerful and richly symbolic poetry has been a fertile source of inspiration to the many writers and artists who have followed in his footsteps.
A visionary genius… There are passages of brilliance everywhere… The wonder of Blake is that he had an imagination that brought together words and images ― Independent
There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron — William Wordsworth
The movement of his [Blake’s] early verse are like the gambollings of some very powerful animal, still in its fluffy-footed and tottering babyhood — Samuel Butler Yeats
[Blake] always insists on the importance of the pure, clean line that evokes and creates the figure on the background of the uncreated void — James Joyce
Blake is a great liberating imaginative force — Tom Paulin
About the Author
William Blake was born on 28 November 1757 in London. Instead of being sent to school he was given drawing classes from a young age.When he was fourteen he was apprenticed to the engraver James Basire and he later went on to work as an engraver, illustrator, printer and drawing teacher. In 1779 he became a student at the Royal Academy. In 1782 he married Catherine Boucher who was to become a great support to him throughout his life.His first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches was published in 1793. In 1789 he published Songs of Innocence which was followed by Songs of Experience in 1793. In the early 1800s he wrote his epic prophetic poems Milton and Jerusalem. He developed his own practice of illustrating his poetical works with his own etchings, producing beautifully illuminated editions. Blake’s political beliefs were controversial for the times; he supported the French Revolution, condemned slavery and the subjugation of women. His religious beliefs were also idiosyncratic and he reported seeing visions of angels at various points in his life. Blake died, poor and in obscurity on 12 August 1827.
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