The poetry of William Blake, an artist, printer, prophet, and revolutionary, varies widely in style and substance, from youthful imitations of Spenser to lyrics of seemingly naive childish wonder to obscure and pretentious mysticism. Apart from his earliest productions, his work shows a powerful originality in form, images, and technique.
His juvenile work, written between the ages of twelve and twenty, was published in 1783 as POETICAL SKETCHES. The poems, which are slight and at times even crude, show a strong Elizabethan influence. Occasional flashes of lyrical brilliance are visible, however, such as this stanza from a song known to have been written before he was fourteen:
With sweet May dews my wings werewet,And Phoebus fir’d my vocal rage;He caught me in his silken net,And shut me in his golden cage.
Although he remained poor and generally unknown throughout his life, Blake was well acquainted with a number of leading social and political radicals, and he belonged to a discussion group which included Henry Fuseli, Thomas Holcroft, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, and others. Through such stimulation he was able to develop his own radical views about Christianity, Swedenborgianism, and the American and French revolutions. His dual...
(The entire section is 1450 words.)
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