William Blake was a poet, painter and engraver. He saw with the vision of a Seer. To Blake the world was more than an ephemeral material existence. In a mundane object he saw the hand of eternity in the complexity of the modern world he saw the underlying innocence and purity of life.
‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.’
- From: Auguries of Innocence
William Blake was not just a visionary of the sublime and ethereal. He saw with clarity and purpose the greed and hypocrisy of man. He saw both the possibility of beauty and the endemic cruelty of society.
Is this a holy thing to see In a rich and fruitful land, Babes reduced to misery, Fed with cold and usurous hand?
Above all else Blake was a free thinker unencumbered by the prevailing conventions of the day. At times he risked arrest for his unconventional opinions. Often misunderstood, his poetry was largely ignored during his life. It is said that a prophet is not honoured in his own country. In the case of Blake he was not honoured during his life, but his prose and poetry have stood the test of time combining an eternal wisdom with a clarity and poetic fluidity.
Blake was a combination of paradoxes spiritually inclined; he received visions of Angels throughout his life. Yet he was a powerful critic of established religion.
‘And the gates of the chapel were shut, And thou shalt not writ over the door.’
The Garden of Love , Songs of Experience.
Often he saw in religion only hypocrisy and meaningless outer rituals. Yet Blake was no atheist, to him religious experience was a matter for individuals to experience in their own heart. Blake instinctively saw beyond outer forms and responded to that which brought true illumination.
‘love seeketh not Itself to please, Nor for itself hath any care, But for another gives its ease, And Builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.’
Blake showed powerfully that what we see in the world is a reflection of ourselves. In a letter to Dr Trusler, 23 August 1799 Blake wrote:
‘To the eyes of a miser a Guinea is more beautiful than the sun.
‘The tree which moves some things to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way.’
‘As a man is, so he sees’ The world is merely a reflection of our state of mind. The poetry of Blake is so appealing and illumining precisely because he had the mind of a visionary who saw beyond the mundane. He saw the inner spirituality of life, but in doing so he became sensitive to the suffering and cruelty of man. Thus Blake was a prophet of the eternal but also a prophet of truth in an era of falsehood and cruelty.
Article by Richard Pettinger
Richard Pettinger is webmaster for Poetseers.org. He lives in Oxford where he is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre
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