William Blake - painter - draughtsman - printer - poet - illustrator - visionary
Tate Britain

I was at Tate Britain on 18 January 2001 to see the exhibition of William Blake (1757-1827) - painter, draughtsman, printer, poet, illustrator and visionary. He is adored for being more than a little mad: one of England's great eccentrics. Blake was born into a family of hosiery and haberdasher whose shop was close to Carnaby Street. He had strange visions as a child; at the age of four was said to have seen God through a window!As regards to his paintings he seems to have been greatly influenced by Michaelangelo as seen in his paintings The God and Evil Angels and Elohim Creating Adam. Also seen in his repertoire of figures being taken from the Last Judgement and every character in the Sistine Chapel, a formula which he appeared to use successfully if one likes his style of working.

His life was filled with visual and auditory hallucinations, supposedly seeing angels and giants battling in Kentish Town and seeing Robert, his adored dead brother, ascend into Heaven through the bedroom roof, and for the rest of his life William carried on an intense conversation with Robert. Another visionary portrait was The Ghost of Flea, which he had conversations with.

His beautiful and innocent poems Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1897) with their simple metre show Blake's profound questioning of the nature of good and evil. He was a solitary and deeply religious man (provided it wasn't organised religion); he hated materialism cruelty. He made his own books, engraving on copper plates both the texts of his poems and the illustrations. His book of Job is a masterpiece of line engraving on metal.

Ordinary folk will remember him for his stirring poem Jerusalem set to Sir Hubert Parry's rousing tune song formerly by old colonels and now by football fans each year at the Last Night of the Proms. Since I have been in London, I have been attending the Last Night at the Proms in the Park and have enjoyed singing Jerusalem. You can see me here in my photos holding my English flag and joining the other peculiar people in song. It almost has the status of a second national anthem. It was first publicity performed at the Queen's Hall, London, on 28 March 1916. It is also the official song of the National Federation of Women's Institutes.

Francis Gilbert sees it not so much as a patriotic hymn but an ode to "free love" with the "arrows of desire" and not letting the "sword sleep in my hand" being phallic images. Be that as it may, long before most of his contemporaries the idealistic Blake saw how the government, the military and industrial states would combine to destroy the green and pleasant land, forcing man to work for the owners of dark, satanic mills. So I would like to finish, as a tribute to William Blake, with the words of his poem Jerusalem in its entirety:

"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 those dark satanic mills? Bring me my bow of burning gold Bring me my arrows of desire Bring me my spear: 0 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. "


Verinha Ottoni.


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