William Blake

William Blake

William Blake was born in Soho, London, England in November of 1757. After leaving school at the age of ten, and falling under the tutelage of his mother, Blake claimed to have had the first of his famous angelic vision. It was an experience that would become a reoccurring theme in his life.

As he aged, he developed a love for drawing, painting, engraving and writing. Some training in his youth helped prepare him for his later artistic endeavors. In 1782 he was married and during the following years he published his collection Poetical Sketches. After his brother died, Blake claimed he came to him in a vision, inspiring him to create an original printing method for his artwork, known as “illuminated printing”. Blake utilized this technique in his best-known collection Songs of Innocence and Experience. 

The Tyger

by William Blake

‘The Tyger’ is a well-known poem by William Blake. It explores the dark and destructive side of God and his creation.

Perhaps Blake’s best-known poem, and certainly one of the most widely anthologized, ‘The Tyger’, delves into the nature of God and creation. The speaker considers the ferocity of the tiger and how they are supposed to reconcile its fearsome nature with the goodness and peacefulness of God seen through other elements of his creation. Blake’s speaker asks the tiger where its eyes were made and how any divine being could’ve made the decision to craft it in such a way. Although admitting his own fear of this creature, he also acknowledges its beauty and the skill it would’ve taken to create it.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

London

by William Blake

Imagine waking up in London in the 1800s. You might find yourself surrounded by prostitutes, the homeless, and many more suffering in dilapidated housing. These are only a few of the haunting sights William Blake documents in ‘London.’

‘London,’ like the other William Blake poems on this list, was published in Songs of Experience in 1794. It speaks on life's difficulties in London through the structure of a speaker’s walk through the city. He travels to the River Thames and looks around him. He takes note of the solemn and resigned faces of his fellow Londoners. The speaker also hears and feels the sorrow in the streets.

I wander thro' each charter'd street,

Near where the charter'd Thames does flow. 

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

The Sick Rose

by William Blake

‘The Sick Rose’ by William Blake describes the loss of a woman’s virginity through the metaphor of a rose and invisible worm. 

This is one of William Blake’s best-known poems. It is made up of one extended metaphor that alludes to perceived female purity. The speaker compares the rose, a symbol of nature, beauty, and fragility, to a woman’s innocence or chastity.

O Rose thou art sick. 

The invisible worm, 

That flies in the night 

In the howling storm: 

A Poison Tree

by William Blake

The poem ‘A Poison Tree,’ published in the year 1794, is one of the most wonderful and appreciated works of poetry by William Blake.

‘A Poison Tree’ was published in 1794 in William Blake’s Songs of Experience. It is noted for its simple language and rhythm that evokes the patterning of nursery rhymes. But, there is much more to it than initially meets the eye. Blake’s speaker considers what anger is and two different ways of confronting it. First, one might move past it by speaking about its cause. In the second, the anger takes root through the image of a tree that unfortunately, bears poisoned apples. This is an outcome that is far from ideal and only perpetuates the cycle of anger and violence.

I was angry with my friend; 

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe: 

I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

The Lamb

by William Blake

‘The Lamb’ by William Blake was included in The Songs of Innocence published in 1789. It is regarded “as one of the great lyrics of English Literature.”

‘The Lamb’ is the companion piece to Blake’s ‘The Tyger’. It was published at the same time and uses the lamb as an image of God’s goodness and overarching will. The perspective is a little different in ‘The Lamb’ than it is in ‘The Tyger,’ but there is a similarity in that the speaker, this time a child, is addressing the title animal. They speak to the creature and take note of its soft wool and the simple noises it makes. The second stanza answers any questions the speaker posed in the first half. The childish speaker tells the reader and the lamb that it was, in fact God, another lamb, who created everything on earth, including the child himself.

Little Lamb who made thee 

Dost thou know who made thee 

Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 

By the stream & o'er the mead;

Never Seek to Tell thy Love

by William Blake

‘Never Seek to Tell thy Love’ by William Blake describes one man’s choice to reveal his true feelings to his “love” and the failure of that effort.

‘Never Seek to Tell Thy Love’ describes one man’s choice to reveal his true feelings to his “love” and the failure of that effort. The speaker addresses the reader of the poem, whoever that might be. He tells them that they should abstain if they consider sharing their emotions with another person. The confessor might think that sharing their most intimate feelings is a good thing, but even a “gentle wind” is felt. Everything has an impact.

Never seek to tell thy love

Love that never told can be 

For the gentle wind does move

Silently invisibly

The Chimney Sweeper: When my mother died I was very young

by William Blake

In 1789 (the year of the beginning of the French Revolution), Blake brought out his Songs of Innocence, which included ‘The Chimney Sweeper.’

This piece was published in two parts in 1789 and 1794 in Songs of Innocence and of Experience. It focuses on the horrors of child labor, a practice that was unfortunately rampant in 18th century England, and around the world. In the case of this poem, the speaker considers the plight of young boys who were sold as chimney sweeps. Due to their small size, they were able to fit into the smallest of places.

When my mother died I was very young,

And my father sold me while yet my tongue

Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"

So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

The Little Boy Lost

by William Blake

‘The Little Boy Lost’ by William Blake is the story of a young child who while out searching for his father gets lost in the woods. 

‘The Little Boy Lost’ was first published in 1789 in William Blake’s famous volume, Songs of Innocence. It is only eight lines long, but it digs deep into the terrifying struggles of a young child. Broadly, the poem tells the story of a boy who, while out searching for his father, gets lost in the woods. By the end of the poem, an important moral message comes through. Blake seeks to compare the loss of faith the child felt in the woods and their doubt that they were going to find their father, to a loss of faith in God.

Father, father, where are you going

       O do not walk so fast.

Speak father, speak to your little boy

       Or else I shall be lost,

On Another’s Sorrow

by William Blake

‘On Another’s Sorrow’ by William Blake describes the love God has for the world and how it has inspired the speaker to act similarly. 

‘On Another’s Sorrow’ was published in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and is one of the longer poems on this list, reaching nine stanzas. God’s enduring love is the main theme of the poem and the conclusion of nine stanzas of build-up as the speaker moves through natural imagery. He discusses the worth of the smallest of creatures, such as the wren, and how everything and everyone suffers.

Can I see another's woe,

And not be in sorrow too?

Can I see another's grief,

And not seek for kind relief?

Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field

by William Blake

‘Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field’ by William Blake describes the wanderings of a woman who is captured by Apollo.

The female speaker of this poem tells the distressing story of her capture by Apollo (referred to as “Phoebus”). Apollo is notorious in Greek mythology for his often unwanted forays into relationships with women. He is the clear antagonist in this text, but his status as a god complicates the narrative. Apollo kidnaps this woman from a field after appearing to her as the “prince of love.”

How sweet I roam'd from field to field,

         And tasted all the summer's pride,

'Till I the prince of love beheld,

         Who in the sunny beams did glide!

Explore more poems from William Blake

A Cradle Song

by William Blake

After one and a half months of painful journey of hospitals, due to my son’s illness, I decided to read and analyze William Blake’s ‘A Cradle Song.’ Though I had read this poem during my graduation days, it touched me today when I experienced the same pain as a mother and a father.

A Divine Image

by William Blake

Although prepared and etched for publication, William Blake dropped ‘A Divine Image’ from Songs of Innocence and Experience in favor of ‘The Human Abstract.’ This poem comes from Songs of Experience and was intended to be the counterpart to ‘The Divine Image.’

A Dream

by William Blake

‘A Dream’ by William Blake paints a compassionate and thoughtful picture of the natural world through the personified story of an ant.

Auguries of Innocence

by William Blake

‘Auguries of Innocence’ by William Blake is a poem from his notebook, known as the Pickering Manuscript. This poem by presenting a series of paradoxical ideas revolves around the theme of innocence vs experience.

Holy Thursday (Songs of Experience)

by William Blake

‘Holy Thursday’ by William Blake depicts the poor children of London attending church on Holy Thursday. Specifically, Blake describes their songs, appearance, and how their existence challenges the message the church is trying to convey.

Jerusalem: And did those feet in ancient time

by William Blake

‘Jerusalem’ is a famous, prophetic, melancholic, and classic poem, penned by maestro William Blake in 1804. It may seem like a patriotic poem, yet it’s misleading, adding to the irony is the fact that it’s an unofficial national anthem of England.

Laughing Song

by William Blake

‘Laughing Song’ is about an imagined instance of what will happen “[w]hen” a time comes, but will only happen after a series of impossible obstacles.

Mad Song

by William Blake

‘Mad Song’ by William Blake describes the intense madness a speaker feels and the frantic pain that accompanies the dawning of a new day.

My Pretty Rose Tree

by William Blake

‘My Pretty Rose Tree’ by William Blake is a poem that represents the harshness that “jealousy” can bring to a relationship.

Nurse’s Song

by William Blake

The poem ‘Nurse’s Song’ is a description of an unpretentious encounter between a nurse and a group of children who are playing on a hill.

The Angel

by William Blake

William Blake’s ‘The Angel,’ told through the frame of an angel that appears in a dream to the narrator throughout the course of their life. This poem was published in Blake’s collection “Songs of Experience” in 1794.

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