Romantic Poet: William Blake


  • Popular in the late 1700s
  • phenomenon characterized by: reliance on imagination, subjectivity to approach, freedom of thought and expression, and idolization of nature.
  • Blake described romanticism as “an embodiment of the poet’s imagination and vision.”
  • Romantic period highly influenced by war between France and Britain and the French Revolution.
  • Romantics were heavily influenced by the idea of “divine vision” (in particular blake), therefore nature and animals had an almost mystic take on them.
  • Romanticism developed as a response to the extreme realism and enlightenment present in the early to mid 1700’s.


  • Born November 28, 1757 in London
  • Had visions of God throughout childhood
  • At age ten, he wanted to become a painter so he went to drawing school
  • Two years later he started writing poetry
  • In 1782, he married Catherine Boucher, who was illiterate
  • He owned and operated a printshop that failed after several years
  • After his brother, Robert died, he believed that his spirit visited him in dreams
  • Political Sketches (1783), Songs of Innocence (1789), Songs of Experience (1794)
  • Died in 1827


  • Blake was a nonconformist who associated with Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, radical thinkers of his day
  • Believed that Imagination > reason
  • Supported the revolution in France. The fight for liberty.
  • Opposed the English monarchy
  • Religion: God is only truly knowable through revelation (this opposed the idea at the time that God is only knowable through his works, or nature)


  • Blake stated his poetic and philosophical principles early in his career and never wavered from them
  • He formed his imaginative world in opposition to the prevailing materialist philosophy, which he saw embodied in three English thinkers: Francis Bacon, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton
  • For Blake, it is the mind that shapes the way that one perceives the object, not a person’s eye
  • Blake set himself the task of waging war on ignorance, on everything that he believed diminished or obscured the Divine Humanity


“The Little Black Boy”

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.

My mother told me underneath a tree,
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east, began to say:

“Look on the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in the morning, joy in the noonday.

“And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And the black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

“For when our souls have learned the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish; we shall hear His voice,
Saying: ‘Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs we joy.’”

This did my mother say and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy:
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I’ll shade him from the heat, till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.


  • Written during the time of slavery abolition
  • Themes of acceptance, unity, and love
  • Natural imagery
  • Juxtaposition: white vs. black, sun vs. cloud

  • First stanza: contrast between black and white. Skin tone and figuratively. Black representing darkness and evil, white representing purity and goodness
  • His soul is good but it is covered by the darkness of his skin
  • Third stanza: is talking about God and light and the sun. This brings in a joyful and light connotation, contrasting with the darkness
  • •Fourth stanza: there is a metaphor comparing their black bodies to a cloud or shade. This could mean that their skin color is a mask or hindrance to them as it covers up their true soul.
  • Overall this poem is about “fully learning to dwell in God’s love” and putting away the “cloud”
  • The little black boy then shares this with the white boy and they talk of a day they can dwell in God’s love together and love each other without having the “cloud”
  • “The Shepherd”

    How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot!
    From the morn to the evening he strays;
    He shall follow his sheep all day,
    And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

    For he hears the lambs’ innocent call,
    And he hears the ewes’ tender reply;
    He is watchful while they are in peace,
    For they know when their shepherd is nigh.


  • Rhyme scheme: ABCB, DEFE
  • Peaceful tone (sweet, innocent, tender, peace, etc.)
  • Theme of protection

  • The Shepherd in this poem could symbolize Christ, and the sheep are his followers.
  • The sheep have security in the Shepherd, the shepherd watches over them
  • Written all in first person which is significant because it could be implying the fact that the Shepherd will follow and take care of his sheep not only now, but into another life
  • "Night"

    The sun descending in the west,
    The evening star does shine;
    The birds are silent in their nest,
    And I must seek for mine.
    The moon, like a flower,
    In heaven's high bower,
    With silent delight
    Sits and smiles on the night.

    Farewell, green fields and happy groves,
    Where flocks have took delight.
    Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves
    The feet of angels bright;
    Unseen they pour blessing,
    And joy without ceasing,
    On each bud and blossom,
    And each sleeping bosom.

    They look in every thoughtless nest,
    Where birds are covered warm;
    They visit caves of every beast,
    To keep them all from harm.
    If they see any weeping
    That should have been sleeping,
    They pour sleep on their head,
    And sit down by their bed.

    When wolves and tigers howl for prey,
    They pitying stand and weep;
    Seeking to drive their thirst away,
    And keep them from the sheep.
    But if they rush dreadful,
    The angels, most heedful,
    Receive each mild spirit,
    New worlds to inherit.

    And there the lion's ruddy eyes
    Shall flow with tears of gold,
    And pitying the tender cries,
    And walking round the fold,
    Saying, 'Wrath, by His meekness,
    And, by His health, sickness
    Is driven away
    From our immortal day.

    And now beside thee, bleating lamb,
    I can lie down and sleep;
    Or think on Him who bore thy name,
    Graze after thee and weep.
    For, washed in life's river,
    My bright mane for ever
    Shall shine like the gold
    As I guard o'er the fold.'


    • Six octets
    • Tone is fairly neutral, as the poem is more descriptive
    • Similes and metaphors


    • Overall this poem is symbolic in contrasting this world with the "New World"
    • It begins in the first four stanzas discussing the coming night, increasing the "darkness" as the poem progresses.  This can be taken literally as night is coming or it can be thought of in a symbolic way describing the downfall of this world as it progresses into darkness
    • The last two stanzas talk about the lion.  Considering Blake's Christian background it is likely the lion can be thought to represent God, or some agent of God.
    • It talks about a New World or Heaven where everything has been renewed to a perfect state and everything lives together in harmony.
    • Overall this poem focuses on the idea that nature is infected by sin (darkness) and it must be made new again or restored to the original "heavenly state"

    Comment Stream