Friday, April 18, 2014

William Blake Talking to the Angels: Easter & National Poetry Month

Fourviere crypte agneau pascal
(By Lucien Bégule (Photo Thierry Wagner) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

William Blake, British artist and poet from 1757-1827, said he talked to the angels from the time he was a youth.  Once he told others that he could "see a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars" (Alexander Gilchrist, Life of William Blake: Pictor Ignotus, 2 volumes, London: Macmillan, 1863; enlarged, 1880).

He poured his visions into poetry and art, combining the two into what he called "illuminated writing." The Poetry Foundation describes the process:  "Blake's technique was to produce his text and design on a copper plate with an impervious liquid. The plate was then dipped in acid so that the text and design remained in relief. That plate could be used to print on paper, and the final copy would be then hand colored." 

His poems from Songs of Innocence are often anthologized for school students. They may be easy enough to read, but contain layers of meaning.

For this Easter weekend, I'll feature one of those, which happens to be one of my favorites.

(Public Domain,

The Lamb

LITTLE lamb, Who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,        
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
  Little lamb, Who made thee?
  Dost thou know who made thee?       
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek and he is mild,       
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are callèd by his name.
  Little lamb, God bless thee!
  Little lamb, God bless thee!

British composer, Sir John Tavener, set Blake's words to this haunting music:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” 
(Revelation 5:13)


  1. Oh! How lovely :-). I had never heard the treeful of angels story, but I believe it. His paired Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience play off one another with an intricacy unmatched by anyone else. This one, as you know, plays off the breathtaking Tyger. (Tyger, tyger burning bright.,) He has always been my soul brother, a fellow mystic I recognized from the first moment I experienced his work. They have original colored editions of both little books at the Huntington Library in California. You can buy reproductions in their gift shop. They are lovely. He was an amazing artist as well as a poet and a printer. You do not need a thesaurus to write great poetry. You do need vision.

  2. bluerabbit, thank you for this profound comment and information. I remember my old Brit Lit textbook quoting his wife as saying something like "He talks more to the angels than to me."

  3. Selected Poems by Wiliam Blake contains Blake’s poems and songs. “Poetical Sketches” is the first collection of poetry and prose by William Blake, written between 1769 and 1777. It contains poems like “To Spring”, “To Winter”, “To the Evening Star”, and some songs. “All Religions are One” is a series of philosophical aphorisms.