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Lecture 3

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Western University
English 2307E
Krista Lysack

English 2307E Thursday January 16 Lecture 3 William Blake Background • We are now in the Romantic period of literature in the 19 century • The Romantic period began in 1789 o This is a pivotal date because it is associated with a number of revolutions (particularly the French Revolution) • 1798 was another start to the Romantic period o Wordsworth published a statement on the state of literature in 1798 • Blake was edgy and revolutionary, not transparent (he didn’t offer easy answers) • He was a visual artist as well (an academic painter – a legitimate painter who would go into schools and seen as established in the art scene) • He didn’t fit into a set of art institutions with prescribed ways of doing things (eg. they would tell you how to paint a landscape, portrait, etc…) o This was restrictive to Blake, so he left and became an apprentice to an engraver o Here, Blake learned how to come up with an illuminated book (eg. a medieval manuscript decorated by monks, a radical form of artistic production) • Examples of illuminated books: Blake’s colour plates (pictured in your anthology) • In this period of time, becoming an artist didn’t mean finding your own way of doing things, it meant following the prewritten rules • Visual Style: o Blake didn’t aspire towards realism – he drew almost angelic bodies o He used a lot of decoration and detail o He would begin with a sheet of copper and write the text backwards into it with a sharp stylus, and draw the images. He would put the sheet of copper into acid so that it would wear the incisions away. His wife would tint it with water colour.  This was a strange process for Blake to use, because he was living in modern industrial times where this method was kind of a ‘throwback’. There were more modern printing methods available.  It was as though he was trying to get away from mass production, and choosing a more artisan process. He wasn’t trying to make thousands of copies, only a few. He wanted every copy to be special (there were minor differences even between each copy.) • Blake didn’t become rich doing this (and wasn’t even well known until after his death). • His plates have all been digitized and can be found in online archives (eg. ‘The Blake Archive’) Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) • This was one of the illuminated books that he wrote • There were only about 28 copies made • This book involves: o 54 plates (pictures) o 19 poems in Innocence o 27 poems in Experience • The illustrations that surround the poems become a commentary on the poems • Innocence o Suggests childhood, naivety o Ready to believe anything, open • Experience o Adulthood • We should think about why he wants to devote poems separately to innocence and experience o These words seem to belong together, but also seem somewhat abstract and big o These two categories remind us that there are multiple ways of looking at the world o Both of these are present at once o Personally we may have a hard time locating ourselves within these realms of innocence and experience (which side are we on?) • As a writer in the Romantic period, Blake thought the senses should co-exist (should be in balance) o He wanted to see emotion, sensation, imagination… all as different properties o Innocence requires experience, but experience also requires innocence o Innocence and experience: unfallen/fallen, good/evil, child/adult, imagination/reason  Blake doesn’t call these opposites, but contraries – they are all concepts that require the other (it needs the other to define itself)  You can’t just exist in a state of innocence – you require experience • To recover from the fall as humans, Blake implies we need to recover the capacity to imagine The Lamb • A poem of innocence • Sounds a lot like a nursery rhyme o Its choice of speaker (the lamb is a benign animal) o Very simple rhyme scheme, lots of repetition • Blake isn’t a children’s author, but he is inserting himself into an understood set of practices th o Children’s books were starting to get going in the 18 century o Blake is using this pre-established form of a children’s nursing rhyme book to explore some profound themes addressed to adults • The first stanza positions the questions (who made us?) • The second stanza provides the response (God made us) o Jesus is associated with lambs in the Bible, which mediates between the childhood state and God • The poem renders the universe entirely knowable (pure innocence) • It produces the world as a series of correspondences – everything matches up with something else o eg. natural world/divine world, child/animal, children/God • Still, there seems to be something insufficient about innocence o We’re never in a place where we feel like we can master the world • The pictures that accompany it show a rural scene of peace and tranquility with a lamb and a child talking to each other (an innocent picture that supports the message) The Tiger • A poem of experience • Form: o A series of quatrains o A regular rhyme scheme and meter o The regularity of the poem doesn’t seem to produce the same tone as ‘The Lamb’ – there is no feeling of tranquility or innocence • Emotions it elicits: o It brings up the picture of mechanized labour o It’s as though the tiger is being made the same way you would forge an object of metal – the tiger is made by a blacksmith • The metaphor i
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