William Blake has been the inspiration for much creative work — in fiction, in films, in music and in art — as well as being the subject for many biographies. Here, we share information on the most recent artefacts we have come across, with the most recent additions at the top.
Inevitably, this is only a sample of what’s been done and what’s going on. Many of the organisations and people featured in our More Resources pages share information on new work that’s being produced, so do check out their pages 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.
- Interesting articles and events that have explored aspects of Blake’s life, work and relevance.
Blake in literature
Joy is the title poem of Sasha Dugdale’s fourth collection. The poem -- which received the 2016 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem -- is a monologue in the voice of William Blake’s wife Catherine, exploring the creative partnership between the artist and his wife, and the nature of female creativity. The Forward judges called it ‘an extraordinarily sustained visionary piece of writing’. You can read a review at the Poetry School site, where Humphrey Astley says "A playwright as well as a poet, Dugdale has harnessed the power of dramatic monologue to produce a tense, dizzying threnody that seems destined to become a one-woman show ... This is not narrative, this is time boiling over ... The speaker in Joy is Catherine, widow of William Blake, and her fixation is a process surely most people can relate to: trying to make sense of a relationship that has come to an end, though in a case like this it’s questionable whether the word ‘end’ can really apply." And there is an excerpt from the poem at the Forward Arts Foundation: He wept he wept more tears than there were days And never changed the door lest, he said, we drive an angel from it And every morning he dipped his brush in wrath and mildness And out of him tumbled the biggest things of all All of them righter than the rightest calculation And truer than any compass
Blake in film
Red White & Blake (2017) is a feature length documentary by Will Franken on the mythology of the poet, painter and mystical visionary William Blake. You can read a review by Jason Whittaker, Head of the School of English and Journalism at the University of Lincoln, at Zoamorphosis – The Blake 2.0 Blog: “Will Franken’s Red White & Blake begins with the rather wonderful warning that ‘No Blake scholars were consulted in the making of this motion picture’. As an ostensible Blake scholar, that offends me much less than it delights me, especially as Franken – who has made his reputation as a comedian but who studied English literature in the USA before coming to Britain – is clearly familiar with a wide range of Blake scholarship alongside the works of Blake himself. Franken demonstrated this last year when he was the winner of the Blake Society’s 2017 Tithe Grant for a wonderful letter he wrote as though addressed by Blake to Samuel Palmer, and Red White & Blake is Franken’s own personal love letter to the engraver and to the country in which he lived.”
Blake in music
As this article from Brainpickings reports, "Half a century after Allen Ginsburg’s musical adaptation of Blake, British independent music project The Wraiths offers a contemporary counterpart in Welcome, Stranger, To This Place ... The first track, after which the album itself is titled, in turn, borrows its title from the first line of Blake’s Song First by a Shepherd." Although the Brainpickings article claims the album features twelve of Blake's poems, only his Song first by a shepherd is included and the album features the works of eight other poets besides Blake, including Emily Dickinson and John Keats. It was released in 2010.
And here is that 1969 Allen Ginsburg adaptation of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, as discussed by Maria Popova at the same Brainpickings site: "In December of 1969, Allen Ginsberg, one of the most beloved and influential poets of the twentieth century, recorded a strange and wonderful LP, setting William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience to song. Accompanied by an eclectic orchestra ... Ginsberg gives Blake’s binary battery of innocence and experience a whole new dimension of enchanting duality. Blake’s poetry was a particularly poignant choice for Ginsberg at a time when his own spiritual journey had taken him into the depths of Buddhism — at once a curious contrast with Blake’s heavy Christian influence and a sensical parallel to the ambivalence about the human soul, coupled with social and religious ambivalence, at the heart of Blake’s message." You can hear all 21 songs at the PennSound archive.
Following on from Bruce Dickinson's appearance and speech at the recent unveiling of William Blake's new gravestone (see Finding Blake's film in our post from the event, The Unveiling), it seems timely to share this film of the dulcet-toned Iron Maiden singer performing his own interpretation of Blake's 'hymn' Jerusalem. Bruce appeared with Jethro Tull flautist and singer Ian Anderson at Canterbury Rock in 2011.
"While on a mesmerizing trip through northern Italy, Roger Arias discovers a mysterious relationship with the poems of William Blake. Those mystical and visionary writings awaken the desire of the musician to compose melodies and sing them. This is how Strange Mystery Flower comes into being..." Their Facebook page is here. See their YouTube channel with songs of William Blake poems, and the four-track album Strange Mystery Flower sing William Blake, Vol . 1 is available on Bandcamp.
In 1996 Jah Wobble released this album of Blake-inspired music, which includes his own recreation of Tyger, Tyger and other Blake poems. This short review from the Attic in 2014 purports to be a letter from William Blake to Mr John Wardle (Jah Wobble before he was renamed in legend when Sid Vicious apparently slurred the name of his bassist friend): "The other day I was eating polenta in my room and I found on my writing desk a white envelope. As I am not curious at all, the envelope stayed there for a week, sealed and untouched. After a while I totally forgot about it, but at last week’s cleaning convention (a session which took place for 6 hours in my flat) I found the envelope again. As it didn’t seem to be an invoice, I decided to open it. All of a sudden, the opened envelope exhaled a weird smell, driving me straight into the past, on a very far distance from the present. I read. 'Dear mr. John (or Joseph) Wardle ....'" The excellent Zoamorphosis site includes a podcast and transcript dedicated to the album, where "Wobble mixes relatively straight adaptations of Blake’s poems – primarily from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, but also The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Auguries of Innocence – with tracks that take Blake more loosely as their inspiration, such as 'Bananas' and 'The Kings of Asia'."
In 1988, British band The Fall released I am Kurious Oranj, an album that contained the track Dog is Life / Jerusalem. Mark E Smith co-credited William Blake, whose preface to Milton a Poem -- later known to the world as the hymn Jerusalem when put to music by composer Sir Hubert Parry in 1916 during World War I -- featured alongside Smith's own lyrics. An annotated version of the full lyrics on the Annotated Fall website notes Smith's inversion "dog::god" Dog the pet-owner-owner blistered hanging there death dog Plato of the human example and copier dogmaster pet mourner Dog is life "The dog 'blistered hanging there' can ... be seen as an image of the crucified Christ, who in the traditional hierarchy of things would in a sense be the 'pet owner owner.' The Platonic god, a type of what is sometimes called 'the god of the philosophers,' is inverted by the notion of god-as-human-as-dog ... William Blake, the ultimate source of the Jerusalem lyrics, saw the human form as the highest way to understand god, an inversion of the philosophers' conception of god which in whatever form generally takes anthropocentric notions of divinity as a mythological approximation to the truth. And 'Dog is Life' is inverted here as the 'death dog'...
Blake's famous lyric is often regarded as the unofficial 'national anthem' for England, and is a regular anthem with Women's Institute, the Labour Party, and many national sports events. On his 2013 album, None the Wiser, folk musician and songwriter Chris Wood offered a more 'traditional' but no less personal rendition than Mark E Smith's (see above). You can hear it at his Bandcamp page -- and watch a couple of live performances on his website via the link above.
Introducing the song in a 2013 post for Folk Radio Simon Holland says: "Chris has demonstrated a willingness to engage with spiritual belief and Come Down Jehovah from Trespasser is an obvious and shining example. I guess one parallel here is that Blake’s poem is actually more ambivalent and questioning, taking the perspective of the common people rather than the self appointed arbiters of our spiritual wellbeing, the rich, powerful and conspicuously godly. [Wood] explains, 'I woke at 4am one morning. Anyone trying to feed their family by making music knows that 4am is the hour of the wolf. Blake’s poem was in my head but I could not remember it accurately because of the monster tune that Hubert Parry put to it. I got up and hunted down the words in an actual book and, without Parry’s music I could plainly see that this was a 4am poem. Four questions which I believe Blake asks because he feels the answer may be, “no”. The tune came to me there and then… In the dark. Paul Gilroy, writer on post colonial Britain, contacted me to ask if he could use it in a lecture he does at Kings'."
Mark Obama Ndesandjo, composer, pianist and brother of former US President Barack Obama, recorded his collection of cantos in 2017 after seeing Blake's "remarkable works, often mystical and prophetic in nature" on a visit to the Tate gallery. A set of prints described the scenes from Rennaissance poet Dante's The Divine Comedy. Inspired in turn, Mark set Blake's images to music. "In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost." - Dante Alighieri