|Yale center for British Art
Paine was twenty years Blake's senior. He had influenced the course of the American Revolution with his book Common Sense before his path crossed that of Blake at Joseph Johnson's printing shop. The two men were joined by their desire to change the world. Each had at his command a mighty pen, but Paine had the ear of his contemporaries whereas Blake did not. As it turns out their gifts were complementary; Paine's writing was an intensely burning fire which quickly did its work, Blake's work burns like the embers in a well stoked furnace - releasing its heat and light over a long period.
Northrup Frye in Fearful Symmetry on pages 66-67 sheds light on the differences between the two men:
"He [Blake] met and liked Tom Paine and respected his honesty as a thinker. Yet Paine could write in his Age of Reason:
'I had some turn, and I believe some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination.'
The attitude of life implied by such a remark can have no permanent revolutionary vigor, for underlying it is the weary materialism which asserts that the deader a thing is the more trustworthy it is; that a rock is a solid reality and that the vital spirit of a living man is a rarefied and diaphanous ghost. It is no accident that Paine said in the same book that God can be revealed only in mechanics, and that a mill is a microcosm of the universe. A revolution based on such ideas is not an awakening of the spirit of man: if it kills the tyrant it can only replace him with another...
Revolution is always an attempt to smash the structure of tyranny and create a better world, even when the revolutionaries do not understand what creation implies of what a better world is.
...all we need to say just now is that for Blake the central problem of social and political liberty is the release of the imagination."
Songs and Ballads, Pickering Manuscript, (E 486)
The Grey Monk "I die I die the Mother said My Children die for lack of Bread What more has the merciless Tyrant said The Monk sat down on the Stony Bed The blood red ran from the Grey Monks side His hands & feet were wounded wide His Body bent his arms & knees Like to the roots of ancient trees His eye was dry no tear could flow A hollow groan first spoke his woe He trembled & shudderd upon the Bed At length with a feeble cry he said When God commanded this hand to write In the studious hours of deep midnight He told me the writing I wrote should prove The Bane of all that on Earth I lovd My Brother starvd between two Walls His Childrens Cry my Soul appalls I mockd at the wrack & griding chain My bent body mocks their torturing pain Thy Father drew his sword in the North With his thousands strong he marched forth Thy Brother has armd himself in Steel To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel But vain the Sword & vain the Bow They never can work Wars overthrow The Hermits Prayer & the Widows tear Alone can free the World from fear For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King And the bitter groan of the Martyrs woe Is an Arrow from the Almighties Bow The hand of Vengeance found the Bed To which the Purple Tyrant fled The iron hand crushd the Tyrants head And became a Tyrant in his stead"