Blake’s Songs and Letters

William Blake wrote many letters to his friends and enemies. These letters give a powerful insight into his experience and his thoughts. Most importantly they invite us in to the Visionary Imagination that was his gift to humanity. A letter like the one written to his friend Thomas Butts on October 2, 1800 gives us an experiential insight into how his imaginative vision transformed the world in which he existed and gave him access to an experience of the divine forces in the universe:


TO my friend Butts I write
My first vision of light,
On the yellow sands sitting.
The sun was emitting
His glorious beams
From Heaven’s high streams.
Over sea, over land,
My eyes did expand
Into regions of air,
Away from all care;
Into regions of fire,
Remote from desire;
The light of the morning
Heaven’s mountains adorning:
In particles bright,
The jewels of light
Distinct shone and clear.
Amaz’d and in fear
I each particle gazèd,
Astonish’d, amazèd;
For each was a Man
Human-form’d. Swift I ran,
For they beckon’d to me,
Remote by the sea,
Saying: ‘Each grain of sand,
Every stone on the land,
Each rock and each hill,
Each fountain and rill,
Each herb and each tree,
Mountain, hill, earth, and sea,
Cloud, meteor, and star,
Are men seen afar.’
I stood in the streams
Of Heaven’s bright beams,
And saw Felpham sweet
Beneath my bright feet,
In soft Female charms;
And in her fair arms
My Shadow I knew,
And my wife’s Shadow too,
And my sister, and friend.
We like infants descend
In our Shadows on earth,
Like a weak mortal birth.
My eyes, more and more,
Like a sea without shore,
Continue expanding,
The Heavens commanding;
Till the jewels of light,
Heavenly men beaming bright,
Appear’d as One Man,
Who complacent began
My limbs to enfold
In His beams of bright gold;
Like dross purg’d away
All my mire and my clay.
Soft consum’d in delight,
In His bosom sun-bright
I remain’d. Soft He smil’d,
And I heard His voice mild,
Saying: ‘This is My fold,
O thou ram horn’d with gold,
Who awakest from sleep
On the sides of the deep.
On the mountains around
The roarings resound
Of the lion and wolf,
The loud sea, and deep gulf.
These are guards of My fold,
O thou ram horn’d with gold!’
And the voice faded mild;
I remain’d as a child;
All I ever had known
Before me bright shone:
I saw you and your wife
By the fountains of life.
Such the vision to me
Appear’d on the sea.

We can stand back and say “that is all sheer fantasy” or we can resonate with what he is describing and recognise that his vision is potentially our own. Allen Ginsberg, with his own frame of reference in Harlem,  had an experience very similar to what Blake is describing:

“And I was living (in 1948) in Harlem, East Harlem, New York, on the sixth floor of a tenement. There was a lot of theology books around, in an apartment that I had rented from a theology student-friend, so I was reading a lot of Plato’s PhaedrusSt John of the Cross…and (William) Blake. And I had the sudden… reading “The Sick Rose” and “The Sunflower”, I had the odd sensation of hearing Blake’s voice outside of my own body, a voice really not too much unlike my own when my voice is centered in my sternum, maybe a latent projection of my own physiology, but, in any case, a surprise, maybe a hallucination, you can call it, hearing it in the room, Blake reciting it, or some very ancient voice of the Ancient of Days reciting, “Ah Sunflower…” So there was some earthen-deep quality that moved me, and then I looked out the window and it seemed like the heavens were endless, or the sky was endless, I should say”.
(Allen Ginsberg, in conversation with Jeremy Isaacs, from his “Face To Face” (BBC) interview, 1995 – the interview also includes a spoken recital by Allen of the poem)
So Blog Topics for This week are as follows. 
CREATIVE- Write a letter to William Blake asking him if he can help you to come closer to an understanding of the Visionary experience he speaks about in his letters.
CRITICAL– take any one of the letters we have explored today and explain what you see to be the most important content of the letter.
CREATIVE- Based on William Blake’s poem to Thomas Butts “To my Friend Butts I write…” write your own poem building on Blake’s method. Chose an event in your own experience that could be spoken about in the way that Blake speaks of his experience. If possible use the same short lined rhyming form.
REMEMBER– You are always permitted to create your own topic as long as it builds on work we have done during this segment of the unit
Audio Lecture and Tutorials for this week are here:

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