Favorite Poets - William Blake

William Blake


In his Life of William Blake (1863) Alexander Gilchrist warned his readers that Blake "neither wrote nor drew for the many, hardly for work'y-day men at all, rather for children and angels; himself 'a divine child,' whose playthings were sun, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth." Yet Blake himself believed that his writings were of national importance and that they could be understood by a majority of men.

Far from being an isolated mystic, Blake lived and worked in the teeming metropolis of London at a time of great social and political change that profoundly influenced his writing. After the peace established in 1762, the British Empire seemed secure, but the storm wave begun with the American Revolution in 1775 and the French Revolution in 1789 changed forever the way men looked at their relationship to the state and to the established church. 

Poet, painter, and engraver, Blake worked to bring about a change both in the social order and in the minds of men.

One may wonder how a child born in moderate surroundings would become such an original artist and powerful writer. Unlike many well-known writers of his day, Blake was born into a family of moderate means. His father, James, was a hosier, one who sells stockings, gloves, and haberdashery, and the family lived at 28 Broad Street in London in an unpretentious but "respectable" neighborhood. 

Blake was born on 28 November 1757. In all, seven children were born to James and Catherine Harmitage Blake, but only five survived infancy. Blake seems to have been closest to his youngest brother, Robert, who died while yet young.

“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 wooly 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.

“Holy Thursday”

’Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean 
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green 
Grey headed beadles walk’d before with wands as white as snow 
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow 

O what a multitude they seem’d these flowers of London town 
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own 
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs 
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands 

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song 
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among 
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor 
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door  

“The Divine Image”

To Mercy Pity Peace and Love, 
All pray in their distress: 
And to these virtues of delight 
Return their thankfulness. 

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love, 
Is God our father dear: 
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love, 
Is Man his child and care. 

For Mercy has a human heart 
Pity, a human face: 
And Love, the human form divine, 
And Peace, the human dress. 

Then every man of every clime, 
That prays in his distress, 
Prays to the human form divine 
Love Mercy Pity Peace. 

And all must love the human form, 
In heathen, turk or jew. 
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell, 
There God is dwelling too.

“The Little Black Boy”

My mother bore me in the southern wild, 
And I am black, but O! my soul is white; 
White as an angel is the English child: 
But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree 
And sitting down before the heat of day, 
She took me on her lap and kissed me, 
And pointing to the east began to say. 

Look on the rising sun: there God does live 
And gives his light, and gives his heat away. 
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive 
Comfort in morning joy in the noon day. 

And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love, 
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face 
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove. 

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear 
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice. 
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care, 
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice. 

Thus did my mother say and kissed me, 
And thus I say to little English boy; 
When I from black and he from white cloud free, 
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy: 

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear, 
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee. 
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair, 
And be like him and he will then love me.

“The Nurse’s Song”

When the voices of children are heard on the green 
And laughing is heard on the hill, 
My heart is at rest within my breast 
And every thing else is still 

Then come home my children, the sun is gone down 
And the dews of night arise 
Come come leave off play, and let us away 
Till the morning appears in the skies 

No no let us play, for it is yet day 
And we cannot go to sleep 
Besides in the sky, the little birds fly 
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep 

Well well go & play till the light fades away 
And then go home to bed 
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d 
And all the hills echoed