This lesson covers Blake's early life and biography, the characteristics of his writing style, and it gives basic introductions to a few of his major poems.
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Below is the outline of the slides used in the lesson:
William Blake's Poetry
A Brief Biography of Blake
Blake's Verse and Figurative Language
Brief Notes of the Poems
Connections to the Project
William Blake, 1757-1827
Blake's life falls a little outside of the historical scope of this project
Important late-Enlightenment poet and an early Romantic poet
My old British Lit. textbook places him with the Romantics; I firmly disagree
More of an engraver than a poet; he's remembered for both
Like Pope and Swift, another professional writer/artist
Used shorter stanzas and more rhymes than Pope or Shakespeare but still iambic pentameter
Strong match between the sound of his verses and the meaning of them (sound=sense)
Early Romantic style with the Enlightenment's concern for socially conscious art
Some Biblical allusions but mostly focused on his own literature and the mythologies he created
Strong use of imagery and sound
An allusion to "The New Jerusalem" that will be built at the end of time as well as a belief that Jesus came to England
Imagery of England as a dark, gloomy industrial wasteland (connection to Project 5)
A hopeful view of England's future?
The Chimney Sweeper
One of Blake's best known poems
About orphans who were commonly used as chimney sweepers (coal is very dirty, and if you don't clean your chimney, your house will burn down)
Orphans are good for this because you can stuff them down into chimneys
The speaker has an apocalyptic vision of Judgment Day
The Little Black Boy
Blake offers a view of an African child who:
Has "natural religion"
Learned from his mother—not his father
Is kind and caring for the weak European boy—reversal of Enlightenment hubris
Blake is turning a lot of the prejudices of Europe during the Enlightenment upside down
Connections to the Project
Blake questions the hubris of the Enlightenment and Christianity via "The Little Black Boy"
"Jerusalem" gives us a sense of the doom and gloom of early industrial England as does "The Chimney Sweeper"—both show the ugly, almost apocalyptic, side of European industrialization
Lesson Completed—Good Job
I've provided read-alongs for the poems, so be sure to access them to help you get a good sense of the sounds of Blake's verses
Consider this literature along with your historical study of the Early Modern Period, and think about how this connects to the growing STEM and wealth gaps that characterize this period