William Blake was an English painter, poet, printmaker, and visionary anarchist. Both in his life and work he supported anti-slavery and feminist views. While reverent of the Bible, he was hostile toward all forms of organized religion. Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions and he maintained an amiable relationship with the Anglo-American political activist Thomas Paine throughout his life. Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. As an artist and poet, he had no predecessors, no peers, nor any successors. His work remains a completely original, singular vision.
I was first introduced to Blake via his collection of poems in Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Blake illuminated his poetry by producing them as etchings, which he would hand paint with watercolor. Later I would tackle The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which is filled with little bits of wit and wisdom that would have a profound effect upon my thinking. Here some of my favorite extracts:
1. Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to human existence.
2. If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.
3. The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
4. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
5. He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.
6. The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
7. Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
8. Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
9. You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
10. As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
Below are some examples of Blake's work that I like. Click to enlarge the image.