Earth raised up her head
From the darkness dread and drear,
Her light fled,
And her locks covered with grey despair.
'Prisoned on watery shore,
Starry jealousy does keep my den
Cold and hoar;
I hear the father of the ancient men.
'Selfish father of men!
Cruel, jealous, selfish fear!
Chained in night,
The virgins of youth and morning bear?
'Does spring hide its joy,
When buds and blossoms grow?
Does the sower
Sow by night,
Or the plowman in darkness plough?
'Break this heavy chain,
That does freeze my bones around!
That free love with bondage bound.'
William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James, a hosier, and Catherine Blake. Two of his six siblings died at young age. Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw God "put his head to the window"; around age nine, while walking dathrough the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. Although his parents tried to discourage him from "lying," they did observe that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend conventional school. He learned to read and write at home. At age ten, Blake expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver because art school proved too costly. One of Blake's assignments as apprentice was to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.
Blake's first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of apprentice verse, mostly imitating classical models. The poems protest against war, tyranny, and King George III's treatment of the American colonies. He published his most popular collection, Songs of Innocence, in 1789 and followed it, in 1794, with Songs of Experience. Some readers interpret Songs of Innocence in a straightforward fashion, considering it primarily a children's book, but others have found hints at parody or critique in its seemingly naive and simple lyrics. Both books of Songs were printed in an illustrated format reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. The text and illustrations were printed from copper plates, and each picture was finished by hand in watercolors.