Though both Goldsmith and Grey are well worth reading, they are not in the league of the other great poet of the 18th century, William Blake. His genius was unique. The intensity of his emotions is overpowering, but at the same time he subjects whatever he writes of to his shaping intelligence – even though it is not always analytical.
Some of his poetry, I should note, is incomprehensible, and not worth trying to understand either. This is when he moves into esoteric religious fervor, involving intense questioning of a deity he created for himself. A brief example of what he could produce in this mood is worth looking at, though there is no point in trying to analyse it
Earth was not: nor globes of attraction
The will of the Immortal expanded
Or contracted his all flexible senses.
Death was not, but eternal life sprung
The sound of a trumpet the heavens
Awoke & vast clouds of blood roll’d
Round the dim rocks of Urizen, so nam’d
That solitary one in Immensity
Blake was at his best when he wrote simply. Had he written nothing else, the Songs of Innocence and Experience would have secured him a place in the canon, with their vivid explorations of the nature of the vicious but wonderful world in which we live, and his subtle understanding of the problems of human interaction.
London is perhaps the most succinct social critique we find in all poetry
I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.
But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse. Continue reading