The poets: Blake (1757 - 1827)
William Blake was born in London on 28 November 1757 and
was christened on 11 December in „St. James‟s Church‟. He
would later be known as an English poet, painter, and printmaker.
His father was a man who sells socks and underwear,
and his mother was chiefly in charge of her son's education. The
Blakes were „Dissenters‟ and are believed to have belonged to the
„Moravian sect‟. Which is a specific religion.
In 1767 William was sent to „Henry Pars' drawing school‟. From
a young age Blake saw visions. The earliest certain instance was
when he was at the age of about eight or ten in Peckham Rye,
London, when he saw a tree filled with angels. Blake had told this to his parents and only
escaped a thrashing from his father by the intervention of his mother. Though everything
suggests that Blake's parents were supportive and of a broadly liberal bent, his mother seems
to have been especially supportive; several of Blake's early drawings and poems decorated the
walls of her chamber.
At the age of 14, in 1772, Blake was apprenticed for seven years to the engraver James
Basire. Gothic art and architecture influenced him deeply. After this, Blake went to the „Royal
Academy‟ in Old Somerset House. There he rebelled against what he regarded as the
unfinished style of fashionable painters. In 1782 Blake met Catherine Boucher. At the time,
Blake was recovering from an unhappy relationship which had ended with a refusal of his
marriage proposal. Telling Catherine and her
parents the story, she expressed her sympathy,
whereupon Blake asked her: “Do you pity
me?”. To Catherine's affirmative response he
himself responded “Then I love you.” Blake
married Catherine on 18th August 1782 in „St
Mary's Church‟, Battersea. Blake taught her to
draw and paint and she assisted him with love
his whole life.
Blake's first book of poems, Poetical Sketches,
appeared in 1783 and was followed by Songs of
Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience
(1794). His most famous poem The Tyger, was
part of his Songs of Experience. In these works
the world is seen from a child's point of view,
but they also function as some kind of adult
Blake engraved and published most of his
major works himself. Famous among his
„Prophetic Books‟ are The Book of Thel(1789)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,(1790) The
Book of Urizen,(1794) America(1793), Milton
(1804-1808) and Jerusalem (1804-1820). In the „Prophetic Books‟, Blake expressed his
lifelong concern with the struggle of the soul to free its natural energies from reason and
organized religion. Among Blake's later artistic works are drawings and engravings for
Dante's Divine Comedy and the 21 illustrations to the book of Job, which was completed
when he was almost 70 years old.
Blake never shook off his economic poverty, which was in a large part due to his inability to
compete in the highly competitive field of engraving and his expensive invention that enabled
him to design illustrations and print words at the same time. However, independent
throughout his life, Blake left no debts at his death on August 12, 1827. He was buried in an
unmarked grave at the public cemetery of Bunhill Fields. Though generally dismissed as an
eccentric during his lifetime, posterity rediscovered Blake and today he is highly rated both as
a poet and artist.
Infant Joy Infant Sorrow
'I have no name; My mother groaned, my father wept;
I am but two days old.' Into the dangerous world I leapt,
What shall I call thee? Helpless, naked, piping loud,
'I happy am, Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
Joy is my name.'
Sweet joy befall thee! Struggling in my father's hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands,
Pretty joy! Bound and weary, I thought best
Sweet joy, but two days old. To sulk upon my mother's breast.
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!
What is it about?
Infant Joy represents the celebration and joy felt at the arrival of an innocent baby. An other
poem of Blake, named Infant Sorrow is a poem of the despair and rejection at the birth of an
unwanted child. So these two poems are opposites. The poem Infant Joy leaves one with the
feeling of warmth and innocence; the other only offers a bleak and dark existence that shall
last a lifetime. Blake presents the reader with two aspects of the birth of life, one that is
softened by peace and purity, and another that is really no life at all. Infant Joy shows
happiness and love. It is an expression of the happiness and wonder felt at the birth of a tiny
babe. The poem is a dialogue between a baby and the mother. The reader of the poem knows
what the baby thinks. The poem shows that the newborn infant is happy too.
The words chosen by Blake - joy, happy, pretty, sweet, sing, and smile – show us a sense of
contentment. The words contribute to a feeling of happiness felt at the occasion of the infant‟s
birth, a timeless situation. The joy felt by the mother is many times experienced throughout
life, one would hope every time a woman gives birth. The age of the child is important, as it
shows the innocence of the babe. The mother names her child „Joy‟.
First of all, Blake repeats the word „joy‟ all the time, joy refers to Utopia, the ideal world.
Infant joy shows this ideal world, on the contrary is Infant Sorrow, which shows the real
world. There is a gap between these worlds, which we call “Weltschmerz”.
Secondly, the harmless baby is seen as a gift. The mom looks like the most happy
person alive, with so much joy. She shows her feelings and calls even her child „Joy‟ because
of all this happiness. She isn‟t afraid to let people know she is happy with her child. She
shows her emotions. The mother feels her emotions and let them go. She doesn‟t think about
the consequences that a child has. She lets her heart speak. That‟s the other romantic
Thirdly, the poem is about a baby, two days old: the purest of all that is pure. A little
child, so very close to nature (to the divine).
Bastiaan te Kiefte