What im­mor­tal hand

Eter­nity’s Sun­rise: The Imag­i­na­tive World of Wil­liam Blake by Leo Dam­rosch

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Songs of In­no­cence

is strangely ap­pro­pri­ate that Wil­liam Blake’s sphere of in­flu­ence is as wide as it is, despite the den­sity of much of his work. The English artist, poet, and vi­sion­ary, born in 1757, cre­ated works so rich in char­ac­ters and mythol­ogy — much of which was in­vented by Blake him­self — that they merit vol­umes of an­no­ta­tion. Even if some of his con­cep­tions now seem ob­scure, their force has not di­min­ished in the cen­turies since they emerged, and as a re­sult, ev­ery­one from the suf­fragettes to 1960s coun­ter­cul­tur­al­ists to Don­ald Trump has ref­er­enced their creator.

Yes, Don­ald Trump. The library at his 1 Cen­tral Park West build­ing is re­port­edly adorned with framed Blake quotes: “The road of ex­cess leads to the palace of wis­dom.” “You never know what is enough un­less you know what is more than enough.” Blake, a hum­ble man with strong con­vic­tions about so­cial jus­tice, would surely have writ­ten an im­pas­sioned re­join­der to such a use of his words.

Stripped of their con­text, Blake’s words are perhaps too eas­ily mal­leable. Con­text is not cru­cial to ap­pre­ci­at­ing Blake. View­ers of his en­grav­ings, draw­ings, and paint­ings do not need to know char­ac­ter names in or­der to ad­mire his tor­tu­ous fig­ures and metic­u­lous line work. Read­ers of “The Tyger,” his most fa­mous poem, can mar­vel at its thump­ing rhythms and ex­tra­or­di­nary won­der with­out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the oddly meek tiger who stands be­low the verse in the orig­i­nal il­lus­tra­tion. And his chil­dren’s po­ems from (1789), when read in­di­vid­u­ally, are charm­ing at any age.

Yet with an imag­i­na­tion as fe­cund as Blake’s, un­der­stand­ing whom and where it came from can only en­hance our ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what it pro­duced, and it cer­tainly helps to have a guide as thought­ful and thought-pro­vok­ing as Leo Dam­rosch, the au­thor of Eter­nity’s Sun­rise: The Imag­i­na­tive World of Wil­liam Blake. (The ti­tle comes from a short un­pub­lished poem: “He who binds to him­self a joy/ Does the wingèd life de­stroy,/ But he who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in Eter­nity’s sun­rise.”) Dam­rosch, a Har­vard pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture, ex­plains early on that his book is not a straight bi­og­ra­phy or thor­ough guide; in­stead, it is “an in­vi­ta­tion to un­der­stand­ing and en­joy­ment,” one that un­ques­tion­ably meets those goals.

Dam­rosch does pro­vide some valu­able bi­og­ra­phy. In brief, Blake, a hosier’s son, “self-taught and fiercely

con­tin­ued on Page 54

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