William Blake

  • Created by: Susy
  • Created on: 30-05-14 16:29

Literary Influences on Blake

Shakespeare -

  • Had a love of Shakespeare's linear lyrical poetry - like WS his poetry often turns on a single thought or situation that is expressed and then developed. It is lyrical as unlike epic and dramatic poetry, it does not attempt to tell a story but instead is of a more personal nature. Poems in this genre tend to be shorter, melodic, and contemplative. Rather than depicting characters and actions, it portrays the poet's own feelings, states of mind and perceptions.
  • The Sick Rose where the 'worm' is a phalic symbol hinting at the destructiveness of sexual passion much like the worm in 'Antony and Cleopatra'.

Milton -

  • Blake reworked Milton's 'Paradise Lost' through 'A Poison Tree' and further revealed God's tyranny and Satan's attractive energy which Blake felt was present in Milton. Something which is further explore in 'The Little Vagabond' (God should give the devil both 'drink and apparel' - reference to the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32) and 'The Chimney-Sweep' 'God and his priest and his King'
  • 'The Sick Rose' - Milton calls Satan 'that false worm' and Eve 'fairest...flower'
  • 'human form divine' vs. Milton's 'Human face divine'
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Literary Influences on Blake

Wollstonecraft -

  • Blake made the engravings for her translation on 'Elements of Morality, For the Use of Children' - taught children to 'regulate' their emotions. 'A Poison Tree' as a psychologically perceptive account of the dangers of bottling up anger.

Erasmus Darwin -

  • 1791 - Blake engraved  the plates for his 'The Loves of Plants' which discusses the reproduction of plants in sexual terms - perhaps influencing the way Blake relates plants and sexual desires e.g. 'Ah! Sunflower', 'The Lily' and 'My Pretty Rose Tree'

George Eliot

  • 'Daniel Deronda' - women 'are brought up like flowers; to look as pretty as we can and be dull without complaining'.
  • She also used quotes from 'The Clod and The Pebble' and 'The Divine Image' as an epigraph in her novel Middlemarch - serial form.
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Religion and Blake

Emanuel Swedenborg -

  • Swedenborgian teachings reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and instead claim that Jesus alone was God - Blake goes further asserting that divinity is to be found within every human in 'The Divine Image'.

Biblical Refrences

  • In 'The Little Vagabond' - Blake impliticly compares the Devil to the Prodigal Son
  • 'where'er the sun does shine' and 'where'er the rain does fall, Babe can never hunger there nor poverty the mind appal.' - Revelations (7:16) is a description of Heaven with God as a source of light.

Neo-Platonist Theory - The physical body is as a mere carapace compared to the immortal soul.

  • 'human dress' - an outergarment to be removed 'The Divine Image' 
  • 'he opened the coffins and set them all free' a coffin to be opened 'The Chimney-Sweep' 
  • 'And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face is but a cloud' - 'The Little Black Boy'
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Empiricism and Scientific Observation


  • Blake strongly opposed Locke's conception of the mind as tabula rasa a 'blank sheet' or a 'yet empty cabinet' He opposed the imposition of ideas onto a child's mind as implied by Locke's theory.
  • Hated the empirical notion of only gaining knowledge through experience
  • Locke's idea that we could reason our way to the conclusion that we are 'God's Workmanship' was deadening as we fail to see the divinity in the black slave or chimeny sweep. He saw it as a perversion of true religion, leaving no room for vision.


  • Hatred of his scientific method of obeservation is perhaps reflected in 'A Poison Tree' as a subversive echo of Newton's inspiration for the theory of gravity.
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  • In 'Émile' Rousseau argues that a child's natural instincts should be honoured. Ideas should not be imposed on children in a dictatorial manner by adults but learned by the child himself in a manner appropriate for his age. Blake's sense that children should be left alone - 'The Shepherd' 'He shall follow his sheep'  and the importance of play 'Our sports shall be seen on the Echoing Green'
  • The needs that prompt Rousseau to put forward his ideas aobut education, the need to treat children kindly and allow them freedom, justice for the under-priviledged and the need to allow natural feelings to flourish are at the heart of the Songs.
  • 'Man is born free and yet everywhere he is in chains' links to Blake's 'London' and 'mind-forged mannacles' 
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Use of Political Idiom - 'I wander through each chartered street'

  • Burke talks about a charter of rights back from the 'Magna Carta' whereas Paine claims that these transactions increase material freedom but it is based on the loss of freedom for the less privileged.
  • Rule Britania in 1740: 'This was the charter...Britons never...shall be slaves.' The soldiers, sweep and harlot are not literally slaves (although the Little Black Boy is) but they are shut in and trapped by the walls of Church and palace and are certainly not free either.
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Structure, Syntax and Language

Blake usually writes in quatrains in tetrameter to echo hymns and nursery rhymes of his day, thus he subverts diadctic children's verse.

In SOI the words 'merry' 'happy' 'joy' and 'sweet' occur a lot to reflect the symplicity

In SOE they are the dominant forces of: 'jealous' 'zeal' and 'cruel', to convey the trappings of experience: 'chained' 'bound' 'iron chain' and 'freeze' 'cold' 'snow', to convey the emotions: 'weeping' 'despair' 'misery' and the reactions: 'disguise' 'secret' 'beguiled' and 'wiles'

In 'Ah! Sunflower' the entire poem is made up of relative clauses, there is no main clause to provide a central statement and no gramatically logical completion of the meanin. The poem is not incomplete but rather the subject of the poem is incompleteness. This perhaps reflects the 'pale virgins' unfulfilled physical lives.

Blake often uses the image of thorns as restrictions of an oppresive moral code e.g. 'binding with briars my joys and desires' and 'but my rose turned away with jealousy and her thorns were my only delight'

The poems' contararies give us a vivid sense of what was lost

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