Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Cover of Songs of Innocence and of Experience Published by Gale Cengage

Blake's friends and circle of disciples published articles in praise of Blake during his lifetime and after his death. These tributes served as the sources and inspiration for the 1863 biography of Blake by Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. Their The Life of William Blake was received with enthusiasm by mid-Victorian poets such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. The enthusiasm fired the poet William Butler Yeats, who wrote the essay "William Blake and the Imagination" in 1887 and edited an edition of Blake's poetry in 1893.

In the nearly two hundred years since Blake's death, the manner in which the poet has been regarded both has and has not changed. While Blake lived, his admirers and his detractors did not much disagree on the nature of his genius and the meaning or the quality of his work. It was over the merit of the work and whether Blake's genius was alloyed with madness that there was disagreement. The opposing factions simply differed in their valuations of Blake's work and his thought. Most were dismissive, regarding Blake primarily as a fine engraver. Some people, such as John Giles (quoted in Heims), one of Blake's young disciples, cherished Blake's work and saw him as a prophet who "had seen God … and had talked with angels."

Robert Southey (quoted in Heims), appointed the poet laureate of England in 1813, called Blake "a man of great, but undoubtedly insane genius." In 1830, the poet and man of letters Allan Cunningham wrote in Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters,...

(The entire section is 638 words.)