William Blake created his own mythology.
There was a divine creator called Urizen, who represented the rational part of mankind.
Blake wrote the “Book of Urizen”, another collection of illustrated prophecies, about the creation of the universe and Urizen’s children.
And then there was Los, who represented human imagination and emotion:
Here’s a page from the Book of Los:
“Los howld in a dismal stupor,
Groaning! gnashing! groaning!
Till the wrenching apart was healed.
But the wrenching of Urizen heal’d not…”
And to give you an idea of Blake’s sheer imaginative range, consider Milton.
It’s an illustrated poem written in 1810 in which the poet John Milton comes down from Heaven to right Blake’s own spiritual wrongs (and explore how artists learn from their predecessors.)
And then there’s his masterpiece, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
It is poetry-allegory-prophecy with no linear plot and characters that are also places and ideas at the same time. Bonkers, brilliant, beautiful, beastly, beyond understanding.
Blake used these strange and mystical works – and his personal cosmology – to explore the conflict between rationality and imagination, the bounds of morality and religion, political ideals and human spirit, and more…
See, to fully understand William Blake you’ve got to know about the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment.
He was fiercely opposed to them both…
This was Blake’s artistic criticism of Isaac Newton, who represented for Blake everything wrong with the Enlightenment.
As somebody who experienced visions, Blake felt Newton’s scientific explanation of light and optics was far narrower than what humans truly experienced.
This is what makes William Blake so important and enduringly relevant.
He noticed the potentially devastating impact that technology might have on humanity, and saw through the false promises of politics.
He epitomises that instinctive human distrust of cold rationalism.
Blake was especially aware of how industrialisation could atomise communities and turn cities into living hells.
And he feared that political revolutions had simply replaced monarchism with mercantilism. Money, rather than a single person, was the new king.
Blake’s work – his paintings, prophecies, poetry, and illustrations – were largely ignored in his own lifetime.
He has since become, long after his death, one of the most revered and studied artists of all.
And rightly so.
But William Blake’s prophetic poems are still far beyond us.
And he was a prolific artist – we’ve barely even scratched the surface here. His body of poetry and illustrations is, put simply, colossal.
I highly recommend exploring his work further.
No thread can ever do justice the sheer creative power of William Blake’s mind.
The word unique is overused, but William Blake surely deserves to be called as such.
There has never been anybody quite like him. Perhaps there never will.