William Blake (1757-1827) is an early Romantic poet from the literary heritage.

Largely unrecognised in his lifetime, Blake pursued his eccentric work despite massive financial hardship and misfortunes. When he died, his wife had to borrow money to pay for his funeral.

Part of the reason for Blake’s outsider status was because he was so uncompromising, so far ahead of his time and so outlandish. He had visions of mystical beings who spoke to him; his political and philosophical views were extremely controversial at the time. Blake believed in equality for all – men, women, and people of all skin colours and backgrounds, rich and poor.

Perhaps uniquely, Blake is now considered a huge figure in both Art and Literature. Blake’s paintings and prints are awesome. Maybe even more than his poems.

Typical features of Blake’s work

God and the Devil, how could a loving and all-powerful God have created evil? We see this in ‘Tiger Tiger’
corruption of earthly things: this plays out the theme of Blake vs the world: Blake contra mundi’. We see this in ‘London’.
– mysticism, the sublime, the spirit, dream-world – as in ‘Auguries of Innocence’, part of which is printed below.

Auguries of Innocence
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Dance before dead England’s hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro’ the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.

God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

Blake also wrote this absolutely barnstorming poem, called ‘Jerusalem’. Later, this was set to music by C.H.H. Parry. It is often sung as an ‘unofficial’ English national Anthem – and was sung at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate).

In it, Blake refers to a myth that God once lived in England. The poem is a call to action to rebuild the promised land (Jerusalem) a nation in the grip of what Blake sees as a ‘satanic’ Industrial Revolution.

If, like me, you grew up in the North of England, you may recognise this image of ‘clouded hills’ and ‘dark satanic mills’.

Even in the 90s, many of the buildings in my village were literally black – from a hundred years of soot. Yikes!


And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,

On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;

Bring me my Arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant Land.