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About this book

William Blake was ignored in his own time. Now, however, his Songs of Innocence and Experience and 'prophetic books' are widely admired and studied.

The second edition of this successful introductory text:
• leads the reader into the Songs and 'prophetic books' via detailed analysis of individual poems and extracts, and now features additional insightful analyses
• provides useful sections on 'Methods of Analysis' and 'Suggested Work' to aid independent study
• offers expanded historical and cultural context, and an extended sample of critical views that includes discussion of the work of recent critics
• provides up-to-date suggestions for further reading.

William Blake: The Poems is ideal for students who are encountering the work of this major English poet for the first time. Nicholas Marsh encourages you to enjoy and explore the power and beauty of Blake's poems for yourself.

Table of Contents

Analysing William Blake’s Poetry

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
The aim of this book is to introduce the reader to Blake’s thought, by way of the Songs of Innocence and Experience, and at the same time equip the reader to approach Blake’s symbolic Prophetic Books with confidence.
Nicholas Marsh

1. Innocence and Experience

Abstract
When you first take up the challenge of studying his writings, William Blake seems to be a special case. He claimed to have visions, he was an eccentric (some people will tell you he was mad) and he did not publish his poems in the ordinary way by having them printed. Instead, he engraved them on metal plates using acid to eat away the designs, and each page is a sinuous, living swirl of shapes, with branches, snakes and other emblems often growing between the lines of poetry. When they had been printed, Blake, or his wife, coloured the plates carefully by hand. The finished works were sold to patrons and friends, in small numbers. You may feel that Blake was an oddity, and will be difficult to understand.
Nicholas Marsh

2. Nature in the Songs, and towards the Prophetic Books

Abstract
Nature in the Songs is more complicated than a simple contrast between country and town, as we noticed in Chapter 1. In particular, we noticed that wild nature disappears halfway through the first poem in Songs of Innocence. This means that the world or outlook of Innocence is not ‘wild’ at all: it is a limited rural part of nature in which vulnerable creatures such as children and lambs are kept safe and at peace. We also moved beyond the idea that Innocence and Experience represent a story of before and after, and suggested that they are contrary perceptions of the same world. We therefore begin this chapter, an exploration of the nature theme in the Songs, with the understanding that Blake is exploring an ambiguous reality, different perceptions of truth. Looking at nature will lead us toward Blake’s concern with ‘vision’, or ways of seeing, both in the Songs and elsewhere.
Nicholas Marsh

3. Society and its Ills

Abstract
We have already strayed into the territory this chapter will investigate. We have made passing references to the two ‘Chimney Sweeper’ poems, for example, and we have begun analysing Blake’s criticisms of the established Church, which he saw as a hypocritical institution supporting a corrupt and unjust status quo. So we know that Blake held subversive beliefs, and was indignantly angry at injustice, oppression and tyranny. In this chapter we will begin by studying seven of the Innocence and Experience poems, then move on to look at extracts from three of the Prophetic Books — The Marriage ofHeaven and Hell again, as well as The First Book of Urizen and Europe, A Prophecy.
Nicholas Marsh

4. Sexuality, the Selfhood and Self-Annihilation

Abstract
We have referred to the ‘integration’ of Blake’s ideas several times, pointing out that his insights are simultaneously applicable to a whole society and to an individual. In the previous chapter on society, we began to understand the mythic process called the ‘Orc cycle’, and commented that the struggles and other dynamic processes this myth describes can be seen in operation both in society and in the individual. In this chapter, we will explore Blake’s presentation of individual consciousness in his works.
Nicholas Marsh

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

5. Blake’s Life and Works

Abstract
This is a brief account of Blake’s life. The main story is quickly told, but the intricacies of his friendships and quarrels, slights received and given, commissions, hopes and failures in his art, admirers and detractors, and so on, are very complicated and would take more space than this chapter affords. Full-length biographies make fascinating reading, and three of these are mentioned in Further Reading at the end of this book.
Nicholas Marsh

6. A Sample of Critical Views

Abstract
William Blake gained gradual critical recognition during the final decades of the nineteenth century, in large part thanks to his biographer Alexander Gilchrist and his editors Ellis and Yeats, while the first major contribution to Blake criticism was the long essay published by Algernon Charles Swinburne in 1868.1 Blake’s fame continued to grow throughout the first half of the twentieth century, and he attracted an increasing amount of critical attention. However, the most significant contributions to Blake scholarship, in the early part of the century, came from the editorial work of Dr John Sampson (1905), Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1925), and Sloss and Wallis (1926);2 the boost to interpretation of the designs given by Joseph Wicksteed’s commentary on Blake’s Vision of the Book of Job (1910); and the biography by Mona Wilson (The Life of William Blake, 1927) which remained the standard account of his life for a long time.
Nicholas Marsh
Additional information