William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) was an artist, printmaker, poet, philosopher, revolutionary and fierce social critic. He believed passionately in the importance of the imagination, and he called the new industrial England a “land of poverty”, described factories as “dark Satanic Mills”, and he denounced the exploitation, oppression and indoctrination of the poor by the ruling classes and the church. At 14 he was apprenticed as an engraver, and as a young man he worked as an engraver and illustrator. He published his poems as integrated works of poetic and visual art, etching words and drawings on copper plates, and colouring the individual prints by hand. He called this process “Illuminated Printing”. Many of Blake’s most popular and most accessible poems are found in two collections: Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). The complete 1794 collection was called Songs of Innocence and Experience and was subtitled “Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul”. A number of poems in Songs of Experience are counterpart-pieces to poems in Songs of Innocence. Many images that illustrate the poems are available online in The Blake Archive: they vary in colour and appearance as they are photographs of the original plates in the various copies of the book.