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William Blake 1757-1827

Biography

Poet, artist and mystic William Blake was one of England's most original thinkers. His two volumes, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience contain some of the most unforgettable poems in the english language. On the surface, as simple as nursery rhymes, they offer profound insights into human nature, and the need for social justice.

Blake was born in Soho, in 1757, the son of a hosier. Apart from three years residing near Bognor Regis, he would spend his life in London, as Blake himself would note in his hymn to the capital, "near where the charter'd Thames does flow". As a child, Blake claimed to have seen God at his window, and angels bespangling the treetops of Peckham Rye. He would have "visionary imaginations" throughout his life, and many regarded him as a madman. At the age of 10, Blake was apprenticed to an engraver, and later, studied briefly at the Royal Academy. During his long career as an artist and engraver he created magnificent illustrations for editions of Dante and John Milton, and all of his own works were self-illustrated, full of invented mythological characters and rich proverbial statements.

Blake died in poverty in 1827 and is buried alongside Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan in London's Bunhill Fields. His imagery has influenced poets from Coleridge through to Ginsberg, and inspired novelists such as Philip Pullman, Tracy Chevalier and Silence of the Lambs author Thomas Harris, while quotes from his writing have inspired film titles such as Chariots of Fire. His poem Jerusalem, written as the preface for Milton's A Poem, was set to music during the First World War and has been adopted as an alternative national anthem. Blake's The Tyger is probably the most anthologized poem in English literature.

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And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?

William Blake

Jerusalem

Audio Clip

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