William Blake was trained as a Journeyman Engraver in the 1770s. Mind you, this was the age before photography. And the printing arts—engraving, etching, woodcuts were the main ways of reproducing an image in books, newspapers, etc. Lithography was invented 20 years later in the late 1790s. Blake was a master printmaker. This meant he was a person well versed in the drawing arts. He also wrote poetry. He was an illustrator of other writer’s books. He also combined his literary and artistic skills in some of the most visionary works in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries of English literature. He was a precursor of the Romantic age.

In his lifetime he was not well known or read. Only after his death in 1827 did literary people take note. Most of his works were self-published in small runs of precious copies. Since his skills at engraving and printmaking composed his bread-winning craft, he would often write, illustrate, etch and print these volumes all himself. He trained his wife Catherine in these crafts as well, and they were intertwined in this poetic, literary, and artistic work together. He and Catherine were paramount “do-it-yourself-er-s.” They had no children, and most likely their creative endeavors together became their main progeny.

My teacher, Tara Singh, appreciated Blake. Two of Blake’s works that I know of were prominent in Taraji’s world. One was God Setting His Compass on the World. This is on the cover of his book, The Voice That Precedes Thought.

It is a moving image by a mystic. It is a moving title by another mystic. There is an inspiration that comes before we can define it in words, or draw it with lines, or shape it with colors. It even precedes our thought itself. What would this be? Have we ever given this state of being the attention it deserves in our life? That would require a connection with the non-verbal Source that transcends our understanding. Could we even admit we don’t know it? Could we even affirm that there is such a state of Being? such a Life Force?

The other work Taraji had at his Foundation by Blake was another painting / drawing about Job from the Bible. This small painting was in the Foundation’s Prayer Room when I visited there. It depicts a certain point in Job’s trials in which his friends accused him of offending God, and this was why he was being visited by such misfortune. The heavy weight of “blame” was being foisted upon Job by his so-called friends. Their pointing fingers of condemnation were nothing short of attack and abandonment.

But Job endured. He never “blamed God” for his misfortunes, but looked for the source of error in himself to correct it. He remained faithful, in other words, and never doubted that God could liberate him from his sorrows.

Eventually God does liberate Job from his trials and tribulations, and rewards him for his Faithfulness. The angels rejoice and all is well again. Even the blameful friends of Job are shown the misguidedness of their doubts and blame.

Blake was definitely a religious man, but he did not comply to organized Catholicism or even Anglicanism of his native England at the time. He and his family were “Dissenters,” considered outside the main stream of the Anglican church authority. He was a kind of early “New Ager” in which the confines of church conventions had little meaning to him. He sought the actuality of the religious experience in his life, poetry, and art. Thought by many of his contemporaries as eccentric or even “crazy,” he courageously followed his own visions of the supernatural.

There is a sensuality in Blake that is often overlooked. He was deeply in love with his wife Catherine. He was a scorpio. And he illustrated one of the books of a forerunner of “feminist” authors, Mary Wollstonecraft. So he held women in higher regard than most men in his day. This watercolor from his illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost shows not only the conjugal joys of Adam and Eve, but the onlooking Angel of Satan appearing in a kind of self-approving envy. One does not feel the “darkness” of Satan, but rather the Humanness of him.

‘Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve’; watercolor by William Blake for John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1808

Catherine and William worked side by side. When they married she did not even read or write. He taught her that, as well as the art of drawing and engraving and printing. One can imagine their relationship is depicted here in the Caresses of Adam and Eve.

There is an otherworldliness about Blake. His poems touch upon the spirituality of corporeal figures in his dance of heavenly forces come into flesh.

A Selection from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Blake truly is a voice from the reservoir of Poetic Genius. His melding of mystical Forces within the very corporeal forms of human life brings spirituality down to earth. No longer abstracted, the Deity resides not only in the “human breast” of man, but in the very “woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities and nations” that form our existence here on earth. Blake brings heaven down to earth, that is otherwise a physical hell of separation.

There is a shocking encounter with Blake. How could we have been so blind, so untouched by the Divinity of these earthly planes. We have defiled the sacredness of physical and natural life, at the same time projected an ideal apart from the palpable players of this present. Blake brings us back. Not in the mysteries unattainable or beyond human reach, but in the true connection with the pulsation of an all pervasive Life. Look into the eyes of this mystery. It is right in the middle of your lover’s stare. Let the power of God come forth in the mare’s stare as well, in the presence of a Natural Divinity that includes all created things, and transcends as well into the innocence of all that is.

Then we are lifted up in the place we are. We are made whole in our connection to the natural players of all Life, not just those of our separated tribe. Blake brings us to this Melding of Heaven and Earth. And what better use of art could there be?


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