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William blake and his story in songs

Following in the footsteps of scholars like Martha Winburn England and B. Mitchell, and the editors of the William Blake Archive, Blake scholars have come to insist that the poetry must be read in its original engraved and painted form rather than in the barren typescript versions still presented in many literary anthologies.

Some of the most famous poems of the period thus had musical titles, titles representing the poet or poetic narrator as a veritable singer: As he drew the figure he meditated the song which was to accompany it, and the music to which the verse was to be sung, was the offspring too of the same moment. During the course of an evening Mrs. An eyewitness to these performances, Smith wrote: Wanting his readers to consider these poems as more than mere words on a page, Blake constructed a narrative frame that forces us to imagine their musicality, to receive them, in short, as songs.

Some of the performative contexts Blake creates for the narrative presentation of his poems are particularly revealing. Clearly, Blake understood song as a social medium having the power to move listeners to thoughtful critical reflection.

  • Paul's Cathedral in London;
  • He even announced that it was Robert who informed him how to illustrate his poems in "illuminated writing.

One wonders if Blake himself ever moved an audience in this way while singing his musical poems. Since Blake lacked the musical education necessary to score his songs Smith 2. Who were these people, and what has become of the notation that they ostensibly produced?

  1. Of more concern to Blake was the deteriorating health of his favorite brother, Robert.
  2. Immediately after the child's disappearance, the author begins the actual physical composition of the poem by plucking the hollow reed for his poem. In his early Tiriel written circa 1789 Blake traces the fall of a tyrannical king.
  3. But even here in this blessed land, there are children starving. Since Blake lacked the musical education necessary to score his songs Smith 2.
  4. His twisted anatomical position shows the perversity of what should be the "human form divine. Many ages of groans, till there grew Branchy forms organizing the Human Into finite inflexible organs.

The renowned musicologist Dr. Although it is tempting to locate his musical productivity primarily during the era in which he produced Poetical Sketches, An Island in the Moon, and the Songs, evidence indicates that Blake continued to enjoy and pursue musical artistry in later years as well.

According to contemporary accounts, Blake spontaneously indulged his passion for song even on his deathbed.

He lay chaunting songs, and the verses and the music were both the offspring of the moment. But the otherworldly assertion that Smith attributes to the dying Blake—his remarkable claim that his death-songs were not his own—nevertheless seems fitting for a self-described visionary artist who often claimed to have written his prophetic and epic poetry from the dictation of angels.

Reconstructing the Music of the Songs? To be sure, we do not know whether the poet composed melodies for all of his early poems, and it is possible that at least some of the lyrics he did sing were set to music spontaneously and sung to different melodies and without instrumental accompaniment during each performance.

William Blake

Consider how different a poem would sound and feel if it were sung in a major rather than in a minor key—or if it were performed with percussive vigour rather than in a spirit of languid melancholy. The choices that a composer makes when setting lyrics to music can make a seemingly happy poem sound sad or an angry poem seem docile, altering the apparent character of the verbal artifact.

Maybe not presuming such a thing were possible in the first placebut we can nevertheless try to appreciate the songs as songs. And what better way to do so than to set them to music and sing them?

More obviously, a musical engagement with the poems might help to restore something of their original multi-media character, for Blake arguably bequeathed them to us not only so that we could contemplate their poetry and designs, but so that we could sing them as well. But as a visionary poet and self-proclaimed prophet, Blake had a very different attitude toward the daughters of inspiration, who look not to the past but to the present and the future, to the moment of creation and its potential artistic and social outcomes.

  • The process of separation continues as the character of Los is divided from Urizen;
  • Hear the voice of the Bard!
  • The "Introduction" to Songs of Experience is a companion to the earlier poem, and, as a poem written in the state of experience, it presents a different view of the nature of the poet and his relation to his audience;
  • Blake's Illuminated Books, vol;
  • By all accounts Blake had a pleasant and peaceful childhood, made even more pleasant by his skipping any formal schooling;
  • One wonders if Blake himself ever moved an audience in this way while singing his musical poems.

For example, I have occasionally turned particular stanzas into choruses, repeating them when the engraved lyrics offer no indication that such a thing should be done. These compositional liberties are not intended to detract from the songs or misrepresent them; it is my hope, rather, that they have made the songs more attractive as musical performances.

Some Thoughts on Music and Pedagogy Music, I must confess, helped to spark my original interest in Blake when I was an undergraduate student. Like many of my classmates, I was an avid consumer of modern music, and I particularly enjoyed listening to songs with meaningful lyrics; but I was unaware at the time that non-musical poetry could hold any attraction for me.


This discussion is followed by a brief concert, in which I perform a few of the individual Songs I have set to music. Because most of my students are fond of music, the musical performance tends to be well-received.

  • Thanks to the support of Flaxman and Mrs;
  • The title page of the combined set announces that the poems show "the two Contrary States of the Human Soul;
  • During the 1790s Blake earned fame as an engraver and was glad to receive numerous commissions.

Occasionally, particularly perceptive students will question my musical settings, suggesting that I have misinterpreted a particular poem by providing it with a melody or musical structure inappropriate to its verbal or visual subject matter. Needless to say, I am hardly the first person to offer such musical homage to Blake. Nevertheless, I hope that fellow Romanticists and Blake aficionados will find some enjoyment in these songs, even where my musical interpretations go against the grain, inciting a spirit of mental fight.