ENGL 401 B1: William Blake

D. Gay

Our course will explore the art and poetry of a great visionary artist. Marginalized and at times precariously employed in his lifetime, he is now a major figure in English literature, painting and visual art. Blake’s artistic ideas respond to the crises and conditions of his times. His begins with the twofold system of innocence and experience, and advances to a fourfold vision in which readers and characters journey through different states of being (Eden, Beulah, Generation, Ulro). Perception – meaning how much imagination we bring (or fail to bring) to the world – is his constant theme. His theory of imagination develops in opposition to empiricism and scientific materialism, which he associated with Bacon, Newton and Locke. The Bible, which he called “the great code of art,” is a constant and radical reference point in his writings. Calling himself a “literalist of the imagination,” he championed the language of myth, metaphor and symbol and characters he called “visionary forms dramatic.” His goal was to awaken a sense of a diverse and inclusive “divine humanity” in his readers.
Text: Blake’s Poetry and Designs, ed. John Grant (Norton paperback).