Was Blake widely read and influential among his contemporaries? NO.
Did he build institutions to transform society? NO.
Did he establish a school of thought to perpetuate his ideas? NO.
Was he a leader who changed his little corner of the world? NO.
Did he have wealth, power or success? NO.
Did he leave a legacy, a body of work in words and pictures, that is becoming recognized as a treasure for developing the human mind and spirit? YES!
When I look at the resources that have been made available for the study of this obscure artist and poet who lived about the time America was being born, I am delighted. Who else has all his poetry and prose available online. Who else has an online concordance to his work to make it immediately searchable for every word or phrase. Who has a web site devoted to displaying his graphic output in the most technologically sophisticated and artistically sensitive way.
So why have all this effort and all these resources been devoted to this artist whose books were produced by the two, or threes, sometimes by the dozens or left in manuscript form only?
Is he becoming known now because he is difficult to read and produces images which are mystifying at first glance? Or can we find some other reasons. Effort is being made into figuring him out. Some study him objectively to describe how he fits in the body of English literature, or how he was influenced by traditions of multiple sorts, or how the times in which he lived determined his understanding of the world. The structure of his work; the techniques he used; his relationship to philosophies, psychologies, religions; how he fits into various structures of thought in science, politics, aesthetics - all ways in which he is being studied as an object from every direction.
But there is another way to study him - subjectively. By looking at what he taught through his poetic visions and graphic images, by looking at the content, not just the form of his output; we can engage in the process of absorbing into our psyches what he had to teach. Of course one wouldn't want to allow someone to influence one's psyche unless one was convinced of the benevolence of the artist, poet or teacher.
So one way to get started on Blake is through becoming familiar with quotes from his works which encapsulate some of his original expressions of archetypal ideas.
"Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth."
"Eternity is in love with the productions of time."
"I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in through heavens gate
built in Jerusalem's wall."
" Man was made for joy and woe
And if this he rightly know,
He through life may safely go,
Joy and Woe woven fine,
A clothing for the Soul Divine."
If we become convinced that we want to gain access to his insights, of course we will let him speak to us directly through the words of his poetry and the visual images. Of course we will get help in understanding his complex mythology from scholars and Blake enthusiasts. But we shouldn't allow ourselves to be drawn into making our studies objective rather than subjective. If we don't come to see Blake as a great man, with a gift of genius from God "to raise the consciousness on men to a perception of the Infinite", we will have missed the reason for studying him, and for all the effort that has been made to make him available to us.
EUROPE, Plate 13 "Till the night of holy shadows and human solitude is past!"