William Blake not only a poet, but he was also a painter, engraver, printmaker, and most notably a visionary. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a key figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His visual artistry has led one contemporary art critic to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. Although he lived in London his entire life except for three years spent in Felpham, he produced a diverse and symbolically rich collection, which embraced the imagination.
William William Blake and his works have been extensively discussed and criticized over the twentieth and now this century, however previous to that he was barely known. (Poethunter) Born on 28th November 1757 in Soho in London, he had a grounded and happy upbringing. As a young boy he had a vision revealing angels in the trees. These returned t his life, leaving a profound mark on his poetry and outlook. Blake was first educated at home, chiefly by his mother. Blake remained very close to his mother and wrote much of his poetry about her.
Poems such as Cradle Song illustrate Blake’s fond memories for his upbringing by his mother (Pettinger, Tejvan). Although always a well read and intelligent man, Blake left his home schooling and attended the Henry Pars Drawing Academy for five years. The artists he admired as a child included Raphael, Michelangelo, Giulio, Romano and Durer. He started writing poetry at the age of twelve and in 1783 his friends paid for his first collection of verses to be printed, which was entitled “Poetical Sketches” and is now seen as a major poetical event of the 18th century.
Despite his obvious talents as a poet, his official profession was as an engraver because he could not afford to do a painter’s apprenticeship and therefore began his apprenticeship with the engraver James Basire in 1772. After completing his apprenticeship six years later, he joined the Royal Academy of Art. At this point his art and engraving remained separate; he wrote and drew for pleasure and simply engraved to earn a living.
In 1784 he opened his own shop and in the same year completed “Island in the Moon”, which ridiculed his contemporaries of the art and literature social circles he mixed with (Bildir, Hata). Two years previous to this, he married Catherine Boucher. She had fallen in love with him at first sight. He taught her to reaad and write and with time she became a valued assistant. In 1784 his father passed away, followed by his beloved younger brother in 1787. Thereafter, Blake stated that Robert communicated with his in visions and appparently told him to combine his engraving with his poetry (“Blake, William (1757-1827). ). Blake was now an established engraver, he began experimenting with printing techniques and it was not long before he compiled his first illuminated book, ‘Songs of Innocence’ in 1788. Blake wanted to take his poetry beyond being just words on a page and felt they needed to be illustrated to create his desired effect. One of Blake’s main was the society in which he lived. He lived during revolutionary times and witnessed the downfall of London during Britain’s war with republican France.
His disgust with society grew as he matured and ‘The Songs of Innocence and Experience’ depict this transition. As well as having radical religious ideas for the time, he also had radical political ideas due to the day-to-day poverty he was forced to witness. To a small circle of admirers, Blake was regarded as a genius. However his mystical Christianity and revolutionary political thoughts, gave him the impression of being a madman in the influential circles of his time. He all his life in poverty, in debt even to several benefactors who provided him money to work.
Blake often felt sad because lesser artists were rewarded on earth while he was rejected, however he knew his work was appreciated in heaven (Kelly, vol. 24, pg. 195). William Blake passed away on August 12th 1827; he was buried in an unmarked grave in a public cemetery. He was supposedly sung until his last breath. After his death his influence steadily grew through the 20th century acclaimed as a kindred spirit by writers: William Butler Yeates and T. S. Elliot (“Blake, William(1757-1827). ”).