Blakean articles

Researching and developing our project brings a lot of interesting features, blog posts, videos and other material our way. And of course we want to share as much of this as possible, alongside the original material that Finding Blake is producing. Explore the growing resource below — our most recent additions are at the top of the page — and do let us know of any articles we’ve missed and you’d like to share: use the Contact page.

Inevitably, this is only a sample of what’s going on. Many of the organisations and people featured in our More Resources pages have their own archive, so do check out their content and sign up to their newsletters. 

In other parts of A Blakean Archive, you can keep up with:

  • Finding Blake’s blog posts – contributions from project members and other creative minds.
  • Finding Blake’s films – interviews with poets, artists, scholars and many others about their relationship with Blake, the making and siting of Blake’s new gravestone, and more.
  • recent events on aspects of Blake’s life, work and relevance.


William Blake is getting a new gravestone after enthusiasts work out exactly where he is buried

Writing in i News in July 2018, Florence Snead reports on the Blake Society’s efforts to locate and now mark the actual burial place of William Blake. “It is now more than ten years since two members took it upon themselves to pinpoint exactly where Blake was buried by pouring through archives and heading into the cemetery with tape measures … Finding the grave was “truly wonderful”, says (Blake Society Trustee) Gareth Sturdy, “because Blake means an awful lot of things to an awful lot of people. “There are seven people in there because when he died, he died in poverty and lay in an unmarked spot. Subsequently other people were just put in on top of him. “It was very moving to find where his remains are and begin the long process of being able to acknowledge one of Britain’s most important poets.” Donations large and small have helped the group raise the necessary funds, with eminent stone-cutter Lida Cardozo drafted in to craft the memorial.

Urban shaman and psychogeographer
Illustration to Robert Blair’s The Grave: The Grave Personified William Blake, 1805

Poet and psychogeographer Niall McDevitt offers a concise and powerful 10-point guide to the uniqueness and importance of William Blake for us in the twenty-first century with this 2009 posting for BBC London.

McDevitt describes Blake as “the first urban shaman of the first industrial city. He is London’s ‘technician of the sacred’, a magican and healer as well as poet.”

 

Blake is an Anglo-Celtic poet who is always returning Britain to its ancient roots in Albion, its Celtic heritage. For him, the 'bard' is the native equivalent of the Jewish prophet and is anti-authoritarian.

Blake's level of compassion for all human beings and for all living creatures is unparalleled in English poetry. His tenderness of soul is huge, as is his anger when he witnesses any type of social injustice

Drawing on ancient magic, philosophy and symbolism, he is trying to teach us how to align the four aspects of our being: intellect, emotion, intuition and sensation. Until we do this, we will not be whole.
William Blake and Beyond

In this fascinating two part audio interview from New Dimensions Radio, America poet Robert Bly shares his personal explorations of Blake, including the relevance of Blake’s ideas of Fourfold Vision and the Four Zoas of creative consciousness. Bly also performs some of his own poems.

‘No accident, no coincidence. Pure synchronicity …’
Paradise Engineering Artwork by Mark Kastner (Galaxian) Image: Return To Disorder © 2018

In this recent Quietus interview by Christian Eede, Scottish producer Galaxian discusses his recent EP release; Paradise Engineering “sees the producer balance serene, otherwordly melodies with the speedy, head-spinning drums he’s showcased so well in countless past releases.” Galaxian also produced the cover art, where the “central erupting volcano represents the internal make-up, annihilation, destruction, consumed in the firmament and chaos giving way to a purifying and cleansing power, unfolding of fertile new ground, paths and inner-awakening.”

 

 

Interestingly I wasn't really attuned to these motifs when I chose the volcanic imagery. It was a few weeks after finishing the artwork that I randomly found myself getting into a deep discussion with a quantum physicist about the ground of reality and existence. During that conversation William Blake was mentioned and later the next day I was reading a book about alchemy and it there it spoke of William Blake, inner-volcanoes, the purging and restorative effect of flames and his poem entitled The Gates of Paradise, similar to the title of this EP. I was very struck by this and how I was being led along this route. No accident, no coincidence. Pure synchronicity.
Perspectives: Jah Wobble, musician, on William Blake

In 2009, musician Jah Wobble confessed in this short New Statesman piece that “For years, people were telling me that I’d love William Blake, but I had never felt like poetry related to me.”

When I thought of Blake I thought of 'Jerusalem' and Last Night of the Proms and all that flag-waving, which put me off. Then finally a friend of mine gave me the old tatty Penguin Classics edition of Blake. At the time I was on a pretty heavy spiritual kick and some of the stuff he said really felt like it applied to me, particularly 'The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom' (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). 

I don’t think anybody really understands Blake. Songs of Innocence and of Experience seems pretty straightforward, but even there if you scratch the surface it gets really heavy. He’s been hijacked by retired colonels in Surrey who think he represents their Albion, and he absolutely doesn’t.

In 1996, Jah Wobble had released his own album of Blake-inspired creations, appropriately called The Inspiration of William Blake. See our Other Blakean Artefacts page for this and other Blake-related music, films and more.

Streets of the imagination

In 2011, in the wake of the summer riots in London and other parts of England, Mike Marqusee wrote this short article for Red Pepper, “the magazine and website of left politics and culture … a socialist publication drawing on feminist, green and libertarian politics.” In it, he takes afresh look at Blake’s poem London — written in the 1790s, in the aftermath of the French Revolution — where the poet “wanders ‘through the charter’d streets/near where the charter’d Thames does flow’,” and “encounters signs of widespread distress. He hears the sound of ‘the mind-forg’d manacles’, the fears and prejudices that keep people in thrall to an unjust social system. Above all, he sees the exploitation of youth: chimney sweeps, soldiers, prostitutes – victims of state, church and commerce, Blake’s tyrannical trinity.”

"Blake called London’s streets ‘charter’d’ because so much of the city’s economic life was subject to ‘charters’ granting exclusive privileges to private corporations. In 1791, they had been denounced by Thomas Paine as ‘aristocratical monopolies’ because of which ‘an Englishman is not free of his own country; every one of those places presents a barrier in his way, and tells him he is not a freeman – that he has no rights.’

In ‘London’ Blake confronts what we would call today a privatised London (even the river), whose ultimate ghastly manifestation is prostitution. ‘But most through midnite streets I hear/The youthful harlot’s curse’ – the contractual commodification of desire, which serves, ironically, to spread sexually transmitted disease. Marriage and prostitution are daringly linked as the twin sides of a pervasive social hypocrisy. The poem ends with the chilling, terrifically compressed image of ‘the marriage hearse’, society’s primary institution damned as deadly.

All this from a walk around London, at that time the world’s largest and fastest-growing city. Nowhere else was there such a convergence of wealth and poverty; nowhere else was the market so ruthlessly dominant."
The Ghost of a Flea by William Blake

In this short essay and series of three short films, artists and curators explore the ideas and images in one of Blake’s most enigmatic images. 

Egyptian artist, musician and writer Hassan Khan discusses his relationship with William Blake’s poems and art.

"The Ghost of a Flea was maybe not my absolute favourite (the various infernal torments, the etchings accompanying some of his poems, were perhaps more impressive), but it was one of the more puzzling. Every time I came across it as I flipped a page, I would linger. On one level, I think I took it literally: he had met the ghost of a flea and that was what it looked like to him. With this literalism, for a short period of time, the world made sense. I could read its code in a bus number, a street sign, the way a woman carrying her shopping walked down the street. This was a benevolent paranoia, though, as the world here was not the sum total of the secret intentions of self-serving hungry souls, but rather an affirmation of everyone and everything. From that perspective a flea, of course, has a ghost, and if he does, then William Blake can possibly one afternoon meet that ghost and render it using his magnificent command of form. It was the very form of the painting (as mediated through reproductions in various books at different sizes, resolutions and colour gradings), however, that made this literalism possible. And that is something I could never forget."

To view the films in a larger screen, right click on the image and select ‘open video in new tab’.

In the films, first Tate curator Philippa Simpson and then writer and graphic novel artist Alan Moore reflect on Blake’s career and psychological state whilst painting The Ghost of a Flea. And then curator Martin Myrone explores this and other work of William Blake in Tate Britain’s permanent display.

"Blake is not a very easy artist to interpret. His work deals with strange, personal and often very archaic themes. What I hope is that the Blake room will help reinsert Blake’s role not only in the history of poetry, or the imagination, or Britain’s cultural life, but also as a visual artist."

William Blake: Influence and References in Popular Culture, Literature, Songs, Films, Etc

This essay at The Hypertexts – ‘an on-line poetry journal with a simple goal: to showcase the best poetry, literary prose and art available to us’ – is by American poet Michael Burch and covers a lot of ground. In short sections, Burch gives his view of topics such as: Writers, songwriters [1], artists and movements he has influenced; References to Blake in poetry, literature, art and music; Blake’s continuing influence; Blake and social progress; Blake’s tenderness, passion and intellectual energy; Blake the first Modernist poet/artist, prophet of freedom and tolerance, child advocate, Abolitionist, first poet of equality, mystic, genius anarchist, satanist [2]…

[1] "According to John Lennon's FBI files, when the 'fantastically nervous' Beatles met Bob Dylan for the first time, there was an uncomfortable initial silence, broken by Lennon snarling an insult at Allen Ginsburg. But the unperturbed Beat poet plopped himself down in Lennon's lap, looked up and asked him, 'Have you ever read William Blake, young man?' Lennon, in his best 'Liverpudlian deadpan' replied, 'Never heard of the man.' But his wife Cynthia chided him, 'Oh, John, stop lying!' and that 'broke the ice.'"

[2] "While Blake has been accused of being a 'Satanist,' I don't think that's strictly true. Blake was so strongly opposed to the errors of orthodox Christianity that he believed rebellion was necessary. And he seemed to believe, as many mystics do, in the 'inner light' or the 'Christ within.' He may have seen man as both Christ and Satan, with Christ representing purity and innocence, and Satan representing experience."

A letter from the young William Blake in defence of imagination & Imagination as the pillar of the spirit

The website of Faena Aleph – ‘a digital magazine that acts as an agent of that precise, perhaps omnipresent, moment that triggers inspiration’ – includes two short essays on William Blake and imagination. In A letter from the young William Blake in defence of imagination (12/5/17), Maria de Gonzales de Leon says:

"For William Blake, imagination represented the pillar of the spirit, an essential part of being human and an inexhaustible source of beauty. The imagination’s capacity to transcend and diminish the finitude of our nature could only, for Blake, result from a contact with nobility and truth. In a letter* ... Blake reveals with his characteristically pristine clarity the precepts that would define his later work and thought."

* Maria mistakenly attributes this letter to Blake when aged just 20 (explaining the title of her essay); in fact though — as a Finding Blake reader pointed out to us (and we should have known all along)! — Blake wrote this letter in 1799, when he was 41. You can see the letter and read more about it in the British Library article.

And the unnamed author of Imagination as the pillar of the spirit (22/8/14) says:

"Perhaps Blake’s most indelible characteristic, aside from the perfect elegance with which he, as a messenger, introduced us to mystical and visionary latitudes, is the bridge he conjured by intertwining two worlds that convention has always made sure are kept apart: innocence and experience, heaven and hell. Although Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789) were written at different moments in his life, they share a common source. One can see signs from both states converging in his poems."

Dandelion Visions & the Nonbifurcated Man

The Blake Fest 2017 site includes this short piece by Mikey Georgeson, introducing his exhibition as part of the festival:

"The central idea of this Blake inspired exhibition is an attempt to marry his fourfold vision with A N Whitehead’s idea of non-bifurcated thinking or 'process reality' ... The bifurcated thinking positions art as an adjunct to scientific reality. Blake, however, recognised that imagination is central to the creation of reality. This is something science is catching up with ... The occidental mind is conditioned to separate the wheat from the chaff. The chaff, in scientific terms is useless stuff. The soul is superfluous to data and therefore useless. It is the dark matter of metaphysical problem solving. The equations don’t add up without it but the rational mind is expert at making the result fit the equation. Blakean imagination is an act of the soul and therefore has been sieved out of our day-to-day model. Instead we are saturated in fantasy and to the rational mind the visions of Blake only make sense as delusions. You don’t need to be a bohemian to feel the hum of the meaning beyond the surface of things but we dismiss the feeling because the machine model analogy has become the default setting and algorithmic analysis the means by which we seek truth."

A Few Notes on Nature Spirits

In the second part (6/12/17) of a two part essay on his Ecosophia site, John Michael Greer quotes William Blake – ‘May God us keep / From single vision and Newton’s sleep!’ – and summarises the ‘four-fold’ vision that Blake subscribed to.

"Single vision - the shrill and dogmatic insistence that real knowledge can only come through the material senses, and must never be understood as anything but the random acts of dead matter and mindless energy in a dead and mindless cosmos - pervades contemporary industrial civilization. It’s because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve gotten so good at manipulating matter and energy, but it’s also because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve done such a dismal job of maintaining the balance of the living planet on which our own lives depend ... 

You and I, dear reader, are members of the animal kingdom. That means, among many other things, that our material bodies are more completely differentiated from their environment than the bodies of living things that belong to other kingdoms. That doesn’t mean that we’re entirely separate from our environments, not by a long shot; we constantly absorb things from our environments and release other things into our environments, and about ten per cent of our body weight is made up of microbes of various kinds, without which we can’t survive - but unless you use a microscope, it’s fairly easy to figure out where our bodies stop and the environment starts. That’s less true of other living things."