Monday, October 4, 2010

William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827) was an eccentric poet, engraver and visual artist who saw himself as a prophet — and the heir of a tradition that came through Shakespeare and Milton — in a lineage that goes back to the prophets of the Bible. Although he was little known in his own day, Blake has become one of the most influential poets of the English language.

He believed in Christ’s divinity and in his resurrection, yet he was critical of the church. He viewed the Bible as the primary source for his inspiration, and yet he often twisted it to fit his own ideas. Since many of his writings are metaphorical and he created his own mythology — which can be interpreted in “the spiritual sense” that he applied to interpreting scripture — he is difficult to categorize. His theology, without doubt, became distorted. Even so, there is evidence of real faith and spiritual wrestling in his work.

The following poems come from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789 and 1794)

The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life, & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice
Little Lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb:
He is meek, & He is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee.

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about William Blake: second post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: