Dan's Reviews > The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, New and Revised edition

The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, New and Revis... by William Blake
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's review
Mar 13, 2008

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bookshelves: poetry
Read from April 01 to December 31, 1987 — I own a copy

(Review edited July 2016)

While frequently described as "pre-Romantic," Blake wrote on many themes typically associated with Romanticism, including nature, imagination and the experiences of childhood. One significant way in which Blake differs from the Romantic poets, however, is in his use of myth. While poets like Keats or Shelley might make reference to a recognized character from classical myth (even basing a longer work on such a character, as in the case of Shelley's verse drama Prometheus Unbound), Blake's mythical references are to such obscure beings as Urizen, Luvah and Tharmas, and to mysterious entities such as spectres and emanations. These characters are not from any earlier mythic tradition, but were invented by Blake in his major “prophetic” works, including The Four Zoas, Milton and Jerusalem. In the context of his constructing an original mythology, I think my favorite quote by Blake has to be "I must Create a System or be enslav'd by another Mans; I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create." As a mythopoeic artist, if Blake is to be compared to anyone, perhaps it should be to writers like J.R. Tolkien or H P Lovecraft.

(For me, Blake's major prophetic works rank up there along with Finnegans Wake with regard to the amount of intellectual effort one must make in order to make sense of what is going on at any point in the work. I have found Northrop Frye’s Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake useful in its commentary on the general outlines of Blake's mythological system).

Along with the major and minor prophecies are included Blake's earlier and less daunting works such as Songs of Innocence And of Experience (but while these lyrical poems are much more accessible, they, too,have their ambiguities—on which latter I enjoy Harold Bloom's commentary, particularly in Blake's Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument).

Other works like An Island in the Moon and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell do not require familiarity with Blake's mythology. For its paradoxicality, and particularly for its "Proverbs of Hell," which reminds me other aphoristic writers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Heraclitus, The Marriage is a particular favorite of mine.
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05/19/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael Nice foray into a writer we don't hear much about. Back in hippie days my mind was blown by "Marriage of Heaven and Hell". Mythopoeic a good tag. His facility at illustrating his own work puts him in a special class of writers.

message 2: by Dan (last edited Jul 08, 2016 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan You're quite right to bring up Blake's visual art, which I do not even mention in my review. Like so many other editions of Blake's writings, this one does not include examples of his paintings and etchings. I suppose Blake is rarely read the way he intended to be read--from books produced by his illuminated printing process and including the illustrations along with the hand-lettered poems.

Besides The Complete Poetry and Prose, I have a copy of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that includes color reproductions of the pages of that book as they would have appeared had Blake printed them himself: the publication information for this book notes that "The plates have been printed in 6 and 7-colour offset by Fernand Chenot, Imprimerie Moderne du Lion, Paris on paper especially manufactured to match the tint of that used by Blake."

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