Blake, or Angels in Peckham


Some love being shown to Blake on another thread recently. He's probably the most visible canonical poet
in underground artistic activity - Ginsberg, Burroughs, Sinclair, Coil, Jarman all refer to him. So whats the attraction? And what poems or engravings or epigrams do it for you?


And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?


Dread beat an' Blake.


The Angel that presided oer my birth
Said Little creature formd of Joy & Mirth
Go love without the help of any King on Earth.


I wander thro each dirty street
Near where the dirty Thames does flow
And see in every face I meet
Marks of weakness marks of woe


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luka is big on blake.

i had a big blake thing going between 1989-2001 which coincided with both being at art school (and doing my slightly hamfisted drawings) and taking quite a lot of hallucinogens. mushrooms put one in quite a blakean frame of mind as they deepen one's perceptions of colours. i remember wintry colours looking incredibly purple, red and blue in those years and those feature strongly in blake's canvas.

also of course the gnosticism of the content. just about the only context (outside of afro-american culture) in which i can tolerate, even REALLY APPRECIATE christian symbolism. if i was to have a god, it would certainly be like blake's god, would appear to be incredibly strange.

when i moved to clerkenwell in 06 i used to go down to blake's grave, which is in bunhill fields round the corner, 2 or 3 times a week. there was always a bunch of flowers on it. jah wobble who lurks round my area has a big thing for blake too. didnt he do a blake-themed concept album? i think blake's original house is in soho, round the back of carnaby street, now entombed beneath the Lowe building.

the blake current is running very low in culture in the moment dont you think? did you read that peter ackroyd blake book. i get slightly weary of the way he's single-handedly commandered "London" as a subject (Hawksmoor, Dickens etc ad infinitum) though i suppose its a good thing.


hot on the heels of love
blake continuuumm

The entire Sinclair,Home ,Moorcock,Petit axis can can easily be read through the Blakian vector.
Check the "skating on thin eyes" section of Lights Out For The Territory(very very Heronbone).


thread death
I think that while Blake may not be buzzing the mainstream he is the icon par excellence for the underground - people may not go for his christian mysticism - this forum seems determinedly atheistic - but what they do do is buy into his personal vision. that is the right to create a line through culture that is all one's own -"I must create my own system or be enslav'd to an other man's".
also Blake appears so modern - railing against church and state, against slavery, against exploitation of child labour, against the monarchy - we feel we can relate to him. and when he states that walking through Londin he can see "marks of weakness, marks of woe...on ev'ry face i meet" who hasn't felt that sense of the effects of modern urban living now in the 21st C?
Blake is a great psychologist as well, his penetration into the motivations and repercussions of negative emotions - "binding with briars our joys and desires".
finally he understands repression - what we do to ourselves, after all the "mind forg'd manacles" are made by us - we enslave ourselves. there's more, obviously, and i can imagine there are those out there ready to take my readings apart (fair enough) but the question was: what's he all about. i have concentrated on songs of Innocence and experience but i think the prophetic books may well be where the real meat might be.


'i have concentrated on songs of Innocence and experience but i think the prophetic books may well be where the real meat might be.'

it's certainly where it starts getting seriously recondite. i grapple with the prophetic books every now and again but it's not easy going. there's plenty of meat in the songs of innocence and experiece.
marriage of heaven and hell is quite approachable and immediately rewarding. the proverbs of hell are a lot of fun. it's a poem which gives you a feel for where blake is coming from, could read it with all religions are one and there is no natural religion for a crash course in blakean theology.

jerusalem, milton and the four zoas are a lot harder to follow but worth perservering with, it just seems to take a lifetime...

yeats was obsessed with blake's the mental traveller

I traveld thro' a Land of Men,
A Land of Men and Women too,
And heard and saw such dreadful things
As cold Earth wanderers never knew.

For there the babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe;
Just as we reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow.

And if the Babe is born a Boy
He's given to a Woman Old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.

She binds iron thorns around his head,
She pierces both his hands and feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side
To make it feel both cold and heat.

Her fingers number every Nerve,
Just as a Miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.

Till he becomes a bleeding youth,
And she becomes a Virgin bright;
Then he rends up his Manacles
And he binds her down for his delight.

He plants himself in all her nerves,
Just as a husbandman his mould;
And she becomes his dwelling place
And garden fruitful seventy fold.

An aged Shadow, soon he fades,
Wandering round an Earthly Cot,
Full filled all with gems and gold
Which he by industry had got.

And these are the gems of the Human Soul,
The rubies and pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of the akeing heart,
The martyr's groan and the lover's sigh.

They are his meat, they are his drink;
He feeds the Beggar and the Poor
And the wayfaring Traveller:
For ever open is his door.

His grief is their eternal joy;
They make the roofs and walls to ring;
Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring.

And she is all of solid fire
And gems and gold, that none his hand
Dares strech to touch her Baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.

But She comes to the Man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the aged Host,
A beggar at another's door.

He wanders weeping far away,
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind and age-bent, sore distrest,
Until he can a Maiden win.

And to allay his freezing Age
The Poor Man takes her in his arms;
The Cottage fades beofre his sight,
The Gardens and its lovely Charms.

The guests are scattered thro' the land,
For the Eye altering alters all;
The Senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat earth becomes a Ball.

The Stars, Sun, Moon, all shrink away;
A desert vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desert all around.

The honey of her infant lips,
The bread and wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving Eye,
Does him to infancy beguile.

For as he eats and drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day;
And on the desert wild they both
Wander in terror and dismay.

Like the wild Stag she flees away,
Her fear plants many a thicket wild;
While he pursues her night and day,
By various arts of love beguiled,

By varoius arts of Love and Hate,
Till the wild desert planted o'er
With Labyrinths of wayward Love,
Where roam the Lion, Wolf and Boar.

Till he becomes a wayward Babe,
And she a weeping Woman Old.
Then many a Lover wanders here;
The Sun and Stars are nearer rolld.

The trees bring forth sweet Extacy
To all who in the desert roam;
Till many a city there is Built,
And many a pleasant Shepard's home.

But when they find the frowning Babe,
Terror strikes thro' the region wide:
They cry 'The Babe! The Babe is born!'
And flee away on Every side.

For who dare touch the forowning form,
His arm is wither'd to its root;
Linons, Boars, Wolves, all howling flee,
And every tree does shed its fruit.

And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a Woman Old;
She anils him down upon the Rock,
And all is done as I have told.


New member
agree with luka about the marriage of heaven and hell...approachable and very rewarding and just so inverted...also like the way matt is like blake a time traveller (when i moved to clerkenwell in 06)...sufi & i had a bit of a discussion last night about blake because he got worried about the imperialist tendencies of jerusalem...i disagreed & really thought it had been misinterpreted and hijacked by a bunch of little englanders due to its arch-victorian musical setting rather than the actual words...but what i really like about blake is that his system is his understand any of the increasingly (as luka says) recondite symbolism one has to wrestle with blake's increasingly recondite beliefs...remember incredibly convoluted cosmologies being mapped out in lectures for milton, jerusalem and the four zoas...and not just literary symbolism, but visual as well and reading one without seeing the other is essentially pointless...there are the really good trianon editions of blake - facsimiles of the text with the blake intended work we have a paper restorer who did her phd on blake's printing techniques, which are themselves pretty recondite...which is one reason most editions of blake are text only...very few originals...but blake is very damn rewarding but very damn baffling at the same time...just such an influential ans subversive figure...rooted in the classical, prefiguring romanticism and reaching far, far beyond... there is another of his houses (with blue plaque) on south molton street...


i saw a complete illuminated books for £30 in the tate. i was tempted but the reproductions are pretty small, despite the pages being fairly big. dunno why that is. you need a magnifying glass to read the text.


New member
was that the one where they're all in monochrome? i bought that...very exhausting but worth it
there's an e.p thompson book that relates him to various dissenting and millenarian sects which is great, called 'witness against the beast', that political/apocalyptic angle doesn't get talked about enough
i LOVE the marriage of heaven and hell, so funny and so disturbing....(actually maybe a lot of the prophetic stuff could do with that lightness of touch)
'the everlasting gospel' is great in the liberation theology vein.... ;)
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the trianon ones are all in colour which is grand...but they're limited editions and not cheap...but the originals are pretty small & they're all done in blake's handwriting so no the easiest to read...blake was definitely part of the apocalyptic nutter school (& a pretty late flowering one)...if i have time i'll try & do some scans of a trianon


thread death
I know that Ackroyd has his critics but he is very good on the links between writing and engraving, in fact he has more to say on the images than on the texts. i like the idea of Blake engraving complementary poems on either side of the same piece of copper - "without contraries there can be no progression".

the other thing about him is that he is so good on the effects of institutions on the individual - the palace walls, the blackening church etc.

i alway have a problem with the " sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires" line in proverbs of hell

in Auguries of Innocence he states:
"he who mocks the Infants faith
shall be mock'd in Age and Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
the rotting grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants Faith
Triumphs over Hell and Death"

To understand Blake i think you also need to think about Milton and Dante, both of whom he read avidly and provided illustrations for. i have a folio society version of Paradise Lost with his engravings which is just phenomenal ( i won it in a competition £75 otherwise!!!).
sorry a bit rambling, my head is on hloliday but love, love , love Blake and felt i had to join in!


the proverbs of hell aren't synomous with blakes beliefs/values.
it's more mischeivous than that.


Its the shorter lyrics that I like rather than the prophetic books - The Chimney-Sweeper; Cradle Song; Ah Sunflower, that sort of thing. Reading those longer poems is a chore, frankly, though you do get the occasional passage that takes your head off. The point that Owen makes about the political Blake is a good one: Ginsberg sponsored a kind of hippy naturist Blake, and Ackroyd and the psychogeography crowd are heavy on the mystical side of things, but the idea of Blake as embedded in a great tradition of English Dissent - from the Levellers on - is often overlooked. You can see this in the form of the engravings too: there's a graceful chaste austerity about his line that is very Protestant.

I guess he is not as prominent now as he was, though I notice The Libertines have taken to banging on about 'Albion'. Wankers.


Blake's dark religious roots

by Emma Turner
BBC News Online, Nottingham

A grant of £110,000 will fund research into Blake's religious heritage
A new name is being added to a list of the East Midlands' famous literary sons.
Previously, poet Lord Byron and novelist D H Lawrence topped the list, but now Romantic poet William Blake has joined them.

He is considered the quintessential Cockney poet, but a team at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) have traced his roots back to a village in north Nottinghamshire.

Blake (1757 - 1827) is probably most famous for writing the words to the hymn Jerusalem.

'National figure'

A letter of application to the Moravian Church - a radical Christian sect - written by his mother Catherine Wright, has revealed she was born in Walkeringham, near Retford.

Blake's mother was assumed to have been a Londoner until Dr Keri Davies - research fellow at NTU - discovered the document in the Moravian Church archive, based in Muswell Hill in London.

As a result, the university's Faculty of Humanities has been awarded a £110,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board for a two-year investigation into Blake's lineage.

Professor David Worrall, who is leading the research, believes the East Midlands connection is a significant discovery.

He said: "What is important for this region is that the work of this great national figure - whose work has such an important role in our national identity - comes from a starting point in this obscure part of Nottinghamshire and a little-known religion."

The Moravian Church arrived in England from Eastern Europe in the early 18th century before continuing its missionary work in the North American colonies.

Catherine left the congregation after the death of her first husband, Thomas Armitage, and married James Blake, William's father, a year later.

Dr Davies believes Catherine's Moravian connection would have influenced the way she brought up her children, with the church's strong emphasis on parents educating their children at home.

Blake himself wrote: "Thank God I never was sent to school, to be flogd into following the style of a fool. "

Blake's Roots

The parallels between the Moravian hymns and Blake's Songs of Innocence - with references to lambs and tigers - have previously been highlighted by scholars.

Blake's work, which became part of the wider movement of Romanticism in late 18th and early 19th century European culture, is filled with religious visions.

Dr Davies said: "We are interested in how the Moravian connection links Blake with high European culture - the Moravian churches were famed for their music, their hymn-singing, their devotional paintings.

"But we are also interested in the way Blake's mother's country origins link the poet with a world of rural tradition that has been largely ignored, while Peter Ackroyd's description of Blake as 'Cockney visionary' has held sway."

The tiny village on the North Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border may seem an unlikely site for a radical religious sect, but nearby Epworth in Lincolnshire was the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley, the leaders of the Methodist movement.

John Wesley was himself a member of the Moravian church in the early 1740s. In a sense we have brought him back to his proper home

Professor Worrall believes Blake may have been strongly influenced by his mother's Nottinghamshire roots.

"I had assumed all my working life that Blake talked like a Cockney, but now we can begin to think of him as a man who may even have spoken with the remnants of a Nottinghamshire accent.

"In a sense we have brought him back to his proper home."


New member
interesting, thanks for posting that....
(but y'know, 'proper home' my arse, he only ever left london for about 6 months in his life and hated the experience)

i read 'the pursuit of the millenium' for the first time a few months ago, and the quotations from the ranters and the movement of the free spirit could have been straight from blake, i thought.


New member
luka said:
i saw a complete illuminated books for £30 in the tate. i was tempted but the reproductions are pretty small, despite the pages being fairly big. dunno why that is. you need a magnifying glass to read the text.
Is that the Thames & Hudson one? I'm pretty sure the reproductions are full size. I've got it, but I find it a lot easier to just look at the pictures and follow the text in the Penguin Complete Works.


WOEBOT said:
did you read that peter ackroyd blake book. i get slightly weary of the way he's single-handedly commandered "London" as a subject (Hawksmoor, Dickens etc ad infinitum) though i suppose its a good thing.
I enjoyed Ackroyd's book, but it has had a disproportionate influence in producing a certain image of Blake.
Ackroyd has a strange profile, hasn't he, both and insider and outsider, feeding off underground currents (Sinclair, Hawksmoor, Dee etc) but copping million quid advances at the same time. I was very disappointed by his book on London (and the TV spinoff). Saw him interviewing the great US poet John Ashbery at the Tate a few years ago - quite the eccentric.


can't remember who published it. the pictures are in colour but they're the size of postage stamps.

i read half the first chapter of ackroyd's biography. seemed 'de-libinising# to use a kpukism. i don't think he's very talednted
i'd like to read yeats' book on blake.