Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. vii

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Be an Artist

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pp. 1-5

Only hours from his death on the evening of August 12, 1827, William Blake, though exhausted from his long struggle against an illness of the liver, could not stop creating. He had spent most of his sixty-nine years making exuberant art, in image as well as word, and his demanding muse would...

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Contraries

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pp. 6-9

In a Harlem apartment in 1948, some years before he would become the foremost poet of the Beat Movement, Allen Ginsberg, twenty-two years old, was relaxing in bed, languidly masturbating, and reading Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. The young man was suffering...

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The Ratio

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pp. 10-12

This is the great problem for all who wish to create: how to transcend a past, both personal and cultural, that has shaped one’s habits of perception. Even if there are such things as innate ideas—and Blake believed there were, once saying that man is “Born like a Garden ready Planted & Sown”— history...

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Minute Particulars

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pp. 13-18

To break the ratio and experience particulars, inexhaustibly intricate, evanescent, unpredictable, alive: who can do this? Only the person who holds to his own perceptions, no matter how strange, however far they diverge from the mainstream...

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Looking

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pp. 19-23

Imaginative perception—dissolving memory into novel solutions, transforming prefabricated givens into unrepeatable ardors—entails intensely looking at the world with love in the heart. When we are imaginative we behold events generously, be they texts or living textures, with a passion for escaping egocentric reductions and exposing ourselves...

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Copy a Great Deal

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pp. 24-31

There is an obvious problem: can anyone, even Blake, ever escape the ratio once and for all? The answer is no. Language itself, a system that reduces lubricious events to stable definitions, is ratio, perhaps the most pervasive and potent one of all. The instant Blake composes a verse, no matter how...

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The Infernal Method

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pp. 32-37

In the 1780s, when Blake was starting his career as an engraver, he wanted to illustrate the books of others—such as The Grave by John Blair—but he also desired to print his own creations, works in which word and image mutually illuminate each other, sometimes simply for...

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Poetry Unfetter’d

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pp. 38-41

In his preface to Jerusalem, Blake wrote what poet Alicia Ostriker calls the “first free-verse manifesto in English.” He complains of the constraints of regular rhythm, the “Monotonous Cadence, like that used by Milton and Shakespeare and all writers of English Blank Verse.” He...

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Revising

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pp. 42-45

Writing is rewriting, and vision, revision. What we call first drafts might emerge from immediate inspiration—the world in the grain of sand or the egret stalking through mud or a sudden swish of unnamed green. Writers hunger for moments like these—they are so rare. When these instants...

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Innocence

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pp. 46-48

A friend of Blake’s, Thomas Butts, once paid the poet a visit. After knocking on the door and receiving no answer, Butts let himself in. He found the dwelling empty, and so made his way to the garden in back. He knew that William and Catherine often spent time there. Entering, he heard Blake...

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Play

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pp. 49-50

Innocence births creativity. It is a return, from the point of view of experience, to a mental space where playful possibilities hold sway, where it’s always surprise day—anything might happen. In this state, life is indeed for a brief time a meandering cloud from which creatures inspire us to make...

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Experience

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pp. 51-56

Casts are flings into the waves. Casts are also structures for fluids, molds in which liquid hardens. Both kinds of casting are required for art, for full realization of poetic genius: a conversation between vision and ratio. The potencies of...

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Generation

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pp. 57-60

If we don’t move beyond innocence, we won’t experience the earth’s awesome energies, sexual and otherwise, and the involved wisdom they inspire. We won’t become “human,” Blake’s noblest state, defined by the ability not only to...

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The Fly

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pp. 61-62

Consider the common fly. Most only notice it as a pest to be swatted or a reminder of carrion and feces. The fly is thus usually only a ratio, an allegory, for all that threatens our sense of sovereignty—death, obviously, but also all those...

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Spiritual Warfare

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pp. 63-66

In 1800, the Blakes moved from their beloved London to Felpham, a seaside village in Sussex. They came at the invitation of William Hayley, a successful poet and biographer who admired Blake’s engravings and wished to offer his...

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Work

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pp. 67-69

No one labored at his art more diligently than Blake. That his last shilling was spent on a pencil for sketching Dante’s shades and that his final act was to draw his wife—these events point to Blake’s lifelong habit of working almost...

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Eternity

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pp. 70-73

To sacrifice life for art is to embody the “Eternal Great Humanity Divine.” This is Eden, where ceaseless mental battle produces aesthetic concords—“Wheel within Wheel [which] in freedom revolve in harmony and peace”—that...

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Dictation

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pp. 74-77

Dictation is the act of transcribing the words of another. When we are inspired, immersed in the mellifluous flux of the present and pouring forth purified words, we feel as though we are indeed writing down immortal sentences, finished and voiced to us from some gorgeous beyond....

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The Fourfold

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pp. 78-82

Creation is an agon between egotism and generosity. Blake’s shorthand for narcissism is “Jealousy.” When we are jealous, we are stuck in a perverse fantasy of absolute ownership, believing that another is our property and thus off-limits to all others but ourselves. Jealousy exists in another guise as...

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Infinite Writing

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pp. 83-85

“If a thing loves, it is infinite.” All of Blake is here. To love anything, from a daughter to a speckled wren to a sonnet, is to respond enthusiastically to its unprecedented particularity, irreducible to any one representation, boundless in its relations to itself and to others, in the ways it...

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Acknowledgments

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p. 87

I would most like to thank the man to whom this book is dedicated, Robert D. Richardson, Jr. He gave me the idea for this book and encouraged me throughout the writing process. This is but one of the many times Bob has...

Notes

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pp. 89-98

Index

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pp. 99-102