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William Blake (1757-1827)

Poet and painter, born in London, was from his earliest youth a seer of visions and a dreamer of dreams, seeing Ezekiel sitting under a green bough, and a tree full of angels at Peckham, and such he remained till the end of his days. His teeming imagination sought expression both in verse and in drawing; on his 14th year he was apprenticed to James Basire, an eminent engraver, and soon after attended the Royal Academy. Among his chief artistic works were illustrations for Young's Night Thoughts, Blair's Grave, Spiritual Portraits, and his finest work, Inventions to the Book of Job, all marked by strong originality and imagination.
In literature his Songs of Innocence appeared in 1789, while Songs of Experience were released in 1794. These books were literally made by Blake and his heaven-provided wife; poems and designs had been engraved on copper by Blake.
Besides, his mystical books turned to be hugely popular: The Book of Thel (1789), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), The Gates of Paradise, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Europe, The Book of Urizen (1794), The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania (1795).
His last books were Jerusalem and Milton. His earlier and shorter pieces, as The Chimney-Sweeper, Holy Thursday, The Lamb, The Sunflower, The Tiger, exhibit an exquisite simplicity arising from directness and intensity of feeling - sometimes tender, sometimes sublime - always individual. A truly pious and loving soul, a neglected and misunderstood genius of his own time, yet appreciated by an elect few, he led a cheerful and contented life of poverty illumined by visions and celestial inspirations. Needless to say, Blake broke away violently from the cultural pattern of his age and turned to the occult tradition in European thought-Jewish cabalistic ideas which had been floating about in certain Christian circles since the late fifteenth century, ideas from the Swedish visionary and religious thinker Swedenborg and the German mystic Boeheme. Blake himself was a visionary whose ideas came to him in the form of clearly visualized encounters with angels, prophets, or other symbolic figures. Except for his first volume of poems, his prophetic books were etched by himself on copper plates, with decorative designs.

From Biographical Dictionary of English Literature - the Everyman Edition of 1910

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