Many poets in the world have been known because of romanticism in their poetry; however, there is no match for William Blake. He is still remembered as one of the best romantic poets due to his poetic verses and his contribution to the movement of romanticism. He does not follow a single pattern when he writes poetry; rather there are a lot of styles that his readers may find in his poems. Thus, his poetry makes William Blake not only the best romantic poet but also a visionary man and a pure artist. Many other poets such as Wordsworth are very much impressed by the style in which William Blake writes poetry. Mostly, the romantic poets are of the view that he surpassed the two most famous poets of his era: Lord Byron and Walter Scott.
Poetry before William Blake was already developed. W.B Yeats remained a famous poet for years and mostly, the poets followed him. William Blake, on the other hand, creates a new charm in poetry due to his unique vision, philosophy and artistic qualities. He portrays a distinctive philosophy in his poems. He was known as an insane person and a mad man as he was a highly original and important poet of the early nineteenth century. William Blake tries his best to show a distinctive world to his readers from his own perspectives. John Ruskin feels that William Blake has a great and wise mind.
Brief History of Romantic Poet William Blake
William Blake was born in 1757 and died in 1827. He spent most of his life in London. Many poems of Wiliam Blake reveal his experiences of life in London city. He started his career as a poet in 1784. It was the time when he recognised his poetic genius. He wrote the following wonderful poems/collection of poems.
- All Religions are One
- There is no Natural Religion
- An Island in the Moon
- The Book of the Thel
- Songs of Innocence
- Marriage of Heaven and Hell
- The French Revolution
- America: A Prophecy
- Visions of the Daughter of Albion
- The Book of Urizen
- The Songs of Experience
- Europe: A Prophecy
- The Book of Los
- The Four Zoas
A True Romantic Poet
Willam Blake gained fame in romantic poetry; however, it may be wrong to say that he just wrote romantic poems. In fact, he was very much interested in social issues. For instance, the French Revolution forced him to write poetry on other topics. Like John Keats, he is not a pure romantic poet. He does not always do poetry for the sake of poetry; rather, he likes to explore additional topics. Nonetheless, he is remembered because of the romantic charm as one of the core ingredients of his poetry.
William Blake puts emotions, senses, imagination and nature in his poems being a romantic poet. Romantic poetry is all about subjectivity. In his early days of life, he was very much fascinated by the nature. He searched for a link between a man and nature. Every romantic poet creates a path to go in the world of imagination. William Blake also does the same; however, the imagery that he uses in his poetry is not supernatural. He sticks to reality and does not exaggerate things. Songs of experience is preferably mentionable in this regard.
Songs of Innocence and Experience
In a short period of time, if someone wants to judge William Blake as a romantic poet, he must read the two most famous collections of his poems: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. In both of these collections of poems, the readers realise a huge difference. He differentiates a person’s childhood moments of life from the mature life. It is also worthwhile to mention here that he uses different styles in his poetry. The poet shows that both these stages are vital phases of life. In the first collection, as a painter and poet, William Blake thinks differently than the others. Pictorial representation of childhood life and experienced life is the theme of Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence respectively.
In these two books, there is a true spirit of romanticism. In fact, it is at its peak. There are two opposing perspectives in these poems but the romantic nostalgia remains the same. William Blake when experienced the French Revolution, he lost his faith in humanity. The innocent life and the world of imagination never gave him peace after that. In the most evident sense, he means to portray the difference between the two worlds through his poetry. Some beautiful romantic lines from Songs of Experience by the poet William Blake are reproduced as:
Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? Gave three life, and bid thee feed By the stream and o’er the mead; Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Pastoral Life Depiction
Mostly, there is a depiction of pastoral life in his poems. William Blake wrote Songs of innocence from a child’s perspective. The poems are about those days of life when there are no worries at all. Songs of Experience, on the opposite, portrays a life in which the charm of childhood is lost. It is about the condition of a person when he knows everything; especially when he makes acquaintance with the sin.
“The Echoing Green”, “The Lamb”, “The Blossom”, “The Little Boy Lost”, “The Little Boy Found”, “Holy Thursday” and “A Dream” are poems by William Blake from songs of innocence and are totally free from dark shadows of life and makes him a romantic poet. In addition, sighting imagery of “The Shepherd”, “The Lamb” and “Spring” strengthens the stance that William Blake uses the best images in his poetry.
Variety of Themes in Romantic Poems
Although all these poems of William Blake are romantic yet there are a variety of themes in them. It is also a considerable fact, which we should not ignore that the poet somehow uses such symbols that illustrate political and social problems. For instance, a poison tree is not a romantic poem at all. It highlights a universal social problem. In this poem, the poet portrays the theme of anger. It seems that the poet uses a romantic theme and the style of the poet seems romantic yet the poem depicts a philosophy. Apparently, the poet talks about a seed that grows and the image of a plant, a close relationship of the poet with nature but in symbolic meanings, the poem depicts the theme of increasing wrath and endless hate.
Similarly, the poem London is about the political tension that William Blake observes in his own city. Industrial development gives him an idea to raise his voice against the injustice of industries. Thus, he along with the people protests through his poetic genius.
Earlier poems of the poet William Blake compel critics to add his name to the list of romantic poets yet his later poems have another cause. Due to variation and diversity in his poems, other poets are unable to add William Blake into one single category. It is, therefore, William Wordsworth said about him:
“no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in his madness which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.”William Wordsworth
A Philosopher in Roantic Era
It is not wrong to say that William Blake is called a romantic poet because he does poetry in the romantic era. There are also elements of romanticism in his poetry but he does not portray imagination at its peak. He is a lover of nature and it is the most important element of romantic poetry yet neither does he escape from reality like John Keats nor does he illustrate imagination like S.T. Coleridge; therefore, the critics use the word “may” for him and say he may be called a romantic poet. Pagliaro comments on William Black’s poetry:
“death -laden, filled with intimidating foes, deadly tigers, hypothetical smiles, and constricting social and religious system that reduce life.”
The vision of Romantic Poet William Blake
He received early education in his childhood despite the fact that he spent his life in poverty. He read literature, studied the Bible and also thoroughly perused John Milton’s work. Thus, he had good knowledge of religion. He had a strong belief in angels, prophets and spirits when he was a child. In fact, it is said that he used to talk with them in his dreams. In his imagination, he used to spend hours playing with them. He used to feel their presence around him. Thus, he loves to write about them.
He himself wrote once:
“The nature of my work is visionary or imaginative; it is an endeavour to restore what the ancients call the golden age.”
It is also a strong belief that the romantic poet William Blake was guided by the spirits. In fact, he himself believed so. He wrote a book on Milton and in its introduction, he wrote:
“I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty lines at a time, without pre-meditation and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.”
Thus, it was his vision to mix the world of nature with the world of reality and present it to his readers in the form of poetry. Besides being a poet, he was a philosopher too; therefore, his poems have deep meanings. In his early poems, he remains simple and true to nature but later he makes certain reformations in his poetry due to which his later poems become vague and unclear; however, there was a vision in them. The Book of Thel is the best-quoted example of it.
Mystic Word in his Poetry
Wiliam Blake has also been compared with Rumi due to the spiritualism and mysticism in his poetry. It is evident from his poems that he creates his unique worlds. As a matter of fact, it is pertinent to mention here that he creates his own stories. Many romantic poets revived Greek mythology in their poems but William Blake recreated mythology. In many poems, he assigns roles to God and Jesus. He promotes equality. For example, he writes:
“Men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast.”
Blake and Antiquity is a book that Kathleen Raine wrote, which discusses the superiority of the romantic poet William Blake over other poets in the following words:
“I can only report, from my own explorations, that this Lost Atlantis is a land of treasures and marvels. Blake’s “golden string” leads not only through his own labyrinth, but is the clue leading to so much more. Neo-Platonism, with its mythology and symbolism, is indeed the local European idiom (as Coomaraswamy would say) of a universal and unanimous tradition. Those sources from which Blake drew his knowledge — and in our own century, Jung, Yeats, and increasing numbers of their followers — are learning of the imagination itself. The excluded knowledge of the last two or three centuries seems likely to become the sacred scriptures of a New Age for which spirit, not matter, is again the primary reality.”
Is William Blake a Romantic Poet?
In a true sense, William Blake’s work cannot be added to a single category. He is a philosopher, a painter, a mystical poet, a political poet, a visionary artist and ultimately may be a romantic poet. There was a discussion between his sanity and insanity too as many poets charged him for being mad.
Mostly, critics of his era do not deny that he was a romantic poet. Samuel Taylor Coleridge copied his poems and improved them while adding more romantic elements to them. The only discussion between the critics is that he was not a pure romantic poet. He has an extended vision through which he sees life differently. He portrays emotions just like other romantic poets but he also talks about general issues.
It is not a poet’s duty to talk about social issues but William Blake considered his responsibility to talk about them due to which he is not a pure romantic poet. He was happily writing poems while remembering the childhood days of his life but a time came when he diverted his attention to other universal issues and raised his voice against social injustice. In this way, sometimes his poetry becomes cynical.
In short, D.C. William rightly says that William Blake was a romantic poet with an extended vision and a critical view of the world. Apart from him, many other poets called him a genius poet. He used to write poetry wherein he depicted an ideal world. He illustrated Utopian worlds in his poetry; however, with experience, he became so realistic that he forgot to write this type of poetry again. In view of the discussion, the poet William Blake may be called one of the best romantic poets but with extended vision.