To see a world in a Grain of Sand,I am not certain what to say about William Blake as poet, painter, engraver and printmaker. He was in his own league in his lifetime 1757-1827, with idiosyncratic views, on everything from nature to religion. His lack of formal education did not stop his self-education from reading all his life. From a long line of dissenters, he was for the most part pro-bible and anti-Church of England.
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
It is perhaps because he did not have a formal educated cookie cutter view of the world, that he was able to expand and populate his own personal universe with things of his own importance – interpretation of the classics, religion, words and art.
I periodically run into him in an arts section of a newspaper announcing this or that exhibit. You are always bound to see a new picture book published of his curious etchings and then there is his poetry for which his fame truly lives on.
He seems to have one foot in the past. His etchings were thought by many to be old fashioned, same as those of his original teacher under whom he was an apprentice. He made a fairly good living for most of the stretch of his life. You would perhaps have to classify him as rising but modest middle class in that aristocratic hierarchy of British Pre-Victorian importance and view of the day.
He does not quite fit in with the Romanticism of the time. Though he lived as a contemporary of the Enlightenment, he no doubt had strong pro views on the American and French Revolutions, his opinions remained in the background of classical themes. His real world, lived most of his life, in a stinking crowded ever-growing London.
As I child he learned to draw from stone and plaster classical statues as subject matter. In fact, looking at some of his later works I see a movement and flow that rises right up out of classical scenes not unlike the friezes of the Parthenon that he would not have been familiar with.
What holds the body of Blake’s work together is his view of the world and no one else’s view. What he saw as a child, aged ten, in light reflecting in a tree were perhaps angels as he claimed or the delusions of a child in full imagination of self within his own small secure turf, a private piece of the universe. The words of his poetry or his religious beliefs are condiments like salt and pepper that flavor all the rest of the world’s basic parts of belief and language.
I see some of his art works as being ultra-modern or even having a strong touch of Art-Deco in them from the early twentieth century. He surely captured the classical theme and also too with his spin of Biblical and Christian myth. The experts are still dissecting and reconstructing their own spin on the spins of this or that decade ever since his demise. They did not give him much recognition in his lifetime. His fame is born of human hindsight. That and the commodity equation of the value of his works.
He left no diaries. His biographers dig through public records and pinpoint him on a historical timeline for a few brief seconds out of every year he lived. The rest is speculation, conjecture and third party gossip. Such is life. He lived grandly of mind within the realm of his life and only shards of that full life of an artist remain alive in the energy and forms of surviving work.
Because he disliked and distrusted religious dogma and stuck with a kind of cultural Christian adherence on the fringes of that once great religion, I dub him as a Secular Saint in the This Cultural Christian’s Hall of Fame.
The words to his poem Jerusalem are part the unofficial national anthem of England sung at many sporting events.