Major Authors, 1789-1890: William Blake

ENGLSH 4168/7168
Section 01
Noah Heringman
Course Description

In this class we will read all the major works of William Blake, from Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794) through Jerusalem (1820). Epic in length and cosmic in scope, Jerusalem developed over sixteen years as Blake was creating his own mythology. It is fitting that one of the best-known quotations from this poem is often attributed to Blake himself, although the words are actually uttered by Los, the character in his mythology associated with human creativity: “I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans / I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.” Blake is one of the great system-builders of English poetry, and sometimes he can be as inaccessible as the philosopher Hegel. But he is also the author of some of the simplest, most beautiful lyric poems in the language. Blake was many things: a precocious artist and fierce critic of the art world; a professional engraver; a hugely prolific poet, painter, and printmaker; the inventor of a new method of “illuminated printing”; a passionate religious and political dissenter; a devoted friend and mentor; and a visionary who struggled all his life in poverty and obscurity. We will read his poetry in light of the contexts--fashionable poetry of the day, royal proclamations, polemical pamphlets, natural history--that make its historical meanings clear. We will study Blake's relationship to artistic practice through some of the texts associated with his pictures and exhibitions and through his technique of illuminated printing. We will also consider his relationship to the publishing world through readings from Mary Wollstonecraft, Erasmus Darwin, and other writers connected to Blake through his professional life. In addition to engaging in close reading and discussion and writing research papers, students will also have the option of creating digital projects that respond to the complex interaction of word and image in Blake's work.