William Blake was born in London in 1757. He received no education, but completed an apprenticeship as a copper engraver. He then moved briefly to the London Academy of Fine Arts. From 1779 Blake worked as a copper engraver. In 1782 he married CATHERINE BOUCHER, with whom he led a happy marriage throughout his life. His first book of poetic poetry was published in 1783. The following books Songs of Innocence (1789) and The Book of Thel (1789) he published in self-publishing. His lyric work continued Blake with the Songs of Experience (1794) and his Prophetic Books (including The Book of Los, 1795). For his literary works, he made large color prints to highlight the unity of image and text in a Gesamtkunstwerk. He also started working for other publishers. Between 1804 and 1808 he wrote a great epic poem aboutJohn Milton. His last phase of life was marked by disappointment. BLAKE suffered from the lack of recognition for his artistic work.
From 1795 Blake created mainly large color prints on biblical themes, motifs by Shakespeare and John Milton, Edward Young's Nachtgedanken and Dantes Divine Comedy, as well as his own literary works. He applied his technique of hand-colored copper or zinc etching. In the middle of the 19th century, the pre-raphaelite artists' association, which included Dante Gabriel Rosetti, was fascinated by the mystical world view devised by Blake. Blake's ideal of the work of art, which blends the image and the text, gained new importance during the Art Nouveau period (between 1890 and 1914).
Initially, Blake's poetry was close to popular lyric poetry. As a early romanticist, he sought in nature impulses for the unfolding of his own imagination and turned against the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The opening verses of his famous poem Auguries of Innocence express the importance of nature for poetic inspiration:
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 the point of view of the romantics, the metropolis of London appeared as the epitome of a modern sense destroying the natural sense. Blake describes the city as the infernal center of ecclesiastical, military and civil authorities, to whom the originally good nature of man falls victim. The childish, unadulterated nature sung in Blake's poetry cycles Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) breaks down into social conditions. Little children who, chimney sweepers, sell chimneys of the mansions, sold by their parents, embody the institutional rape of human nature for Blake.
Blake was increasingly under the spell of the mysticism of Jakob Böhmes and Emanuel Swedenborgs. He designed his own cosmogony (= theory of the origin of the world) and mythology, which was based on symbols from the Bible and Old Testament commentaries. With stunning language and bold images he created in the three great epic poems The Four Zoas (1795-1814), Milton (1804-1808) and Jerusalem (1804-20), a mysterious symbol language that complicated the understanding of his late work. It was not until the interpretations of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1867) and William Butler Yeats (1893) that the significance of Blake's work was opened up and received much greater attention than in the poet's lifetime.