William Blake

William Blake is an integral part of what you get from growing up in England but I think that most people, like me until recently, don't know it. His image is indistinct because he's one of those people who won't fit into any particular box. He was a crank, a poet and a painter, an engraver and a book publisher and a social critic with neither a platform nor an audience. He is largely beyond explanation. Try this.

He wrote magnificent statements:

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

"A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees."

"He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence."

"Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius."

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."

He disliked modernity and institutions, the two things that defined the success of his time. He didn't like technology. He didn't like science. He thought Newton was an over-rated flake. I think he was very crotchety; he is reported to have once beaten up a child. His poem "Jerusalem" develops the highly suspect premise that Jesus lived for a while in Southern England - an absurdity built on a myth. The same poem, set to music by Parry, has been adopted by the Church of England as a hymn, although, if you read the words, "Jerusalem" actually has nothing at all to do with religion. Through popular use, "Jerusalem" has been taken up by nationalists, thugs and football fans as some kind of Song of England. Indeed, it by default has become the national anthem of England. And it is by far the most beautiful anthem of any country. But Blake's "Jerusalem" is an attack on the country, an expression of anti-nationalism that is exactly the opposite of what many people believe it to be. And Blake would have been completely repulsed by nationalists, thugs and football fans. How fantastic is that? Blake was regarded in his lifetime as crazy. It was definitely the good kind of crazy.

A nice version and an operatic version that I really like, and another that is mesmerizing. And this version And a home version.