William Blake, The Lord Answering Job from the WhirlwindJob Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind’ (detail) – William Blake, 1803 – Wikimedia


I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s;
I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create
~ William Blake (‘Jerusalem’)


Artists, through their sensitivity to perception, their pointed quest towards beauty and harmony, are natural candidates for delving into the depth of reality and understanding their true nature. Many poets, painters, musicians, have been able to explore their being in ways that are traditionally the privilege of mystics. Indeed, they wrestle with eternity, and strive to find a way to convey it. William Blake was one such wrestler. He was a poet, painter and printer born in London in 1757. Although not recognised during his life, his art is bursting with creativity, intelligence, and vision. His profuse work, soaked with spiritual explorations, symbolic and personal mythologies, is not to be easily classified. Of William Blake, the 19th-century scholar William Michael Rossetti wrote that he was “a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors“. Besides, his poetry is infused with pearls of the most profound non-dual understanding, which I invite you to explore here.

In his childhood, William Blake was fascinated by the work of great masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Albrecht Dürer. He was educated at home, was given drawing lessons, and began writing poetry at an early age. Profoundly influenced by the Bible and Christianity, he was all his life gifted with visions and insights, from which he drew guidance and inspiration for his poetry and paintings. He was nevertheless not a follower, and developed his own vision and understanding. He was very critical of narrow-minded religiosity, or what he named the “general truth” or “general beauty“, writing uncompromisingly that: “To generalize is to be an idiot; To particularize is the alone distinction of merit“. William Blake wrote these enlightening verses about his religious endeavour and passion:

Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish’d at me.
Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. the Human Imagination.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Ch. 1, plate 5)

When will the Resurrection come, to deliver the sleeping body
From corruptibility? O when, Lord Jesus, wilt thou come?
Tarry no longer; for my soul lies at the gates of death:
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave:
I will go down to the sepulchre and see if morning breaks.
I will go down to self-annihilation and eternal death
Lest the Last Judgment come and find me unannihilate
And I be seized and given into the hands of my own selfhood.”
~ ‘Milton’ (Book the First)

When he was an adolescent, William Blake learned the craft of engraving, the activity which allowed him to earn a meagre living. He became an illustrator for books and magazines. Yet his ordeal and passion remained the field of mystics and religion, for which he was unwilling to compromise. His poetry also expressed his rebellious and non-conformist traits, exploring topics like politics, society, human rights, slavery, racial and sexual equality. He was nevertheless aware that the roots of the world’s endless turmoil were to be found in the mind, as he expressed in these lines:

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
~ ‘London’


213F3960-9165-4F12-8AFF-1DD98A88B1D9‘William Blake’ – Thomas Phillips, 1807 – Wikimedia

It is in the depiction of the inner life that William Blake excelled. His poetical genius was able to portray the spiritual endeavour with the most subtle accents of truth. Listen in what ways he describes that god is never a distant entity, but resides in and as our very being…

Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 4, Chapt. 1)

Why stand we here trembling around,
calling on God for help and not ourselves, in whom God dwells?
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 43a)

Men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’

The Angel that presided o’er my birth
Said, ‘Little creature, formed of joy and mirth,
Go love without the help of any thing on earth’.”
~ ‘The Angel That Presided’

Every one a translucent Wonder: a Universe within,
Increasing inwards, into length and breadth, and heighth:
Starry & glorious.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 14)

In his early thirties, William Blake began illustrating his books with relief etching, a process called illuminated printing, which required finitions by hand with watercolour. His devoted and beloved wife Catherine Boucher was for him a precious helper with that endeavour. At that time, he published his first book ‘Songs of Innocence’, a collection of 19 poems that, he explained in his introduction, was initiated by a child in a cloud:
And I made a rural pen,
   And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
   Every child may joy to hear.”
The following poem is one such expression of innocence and candour, with sweet and truthful spiritual accents, a poem whose titled was inspired from this line in the Book of Genesis (1:26): “And God said: Let us make man in our image”. (KJV)


The Divine Image

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity, a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too

~ ‘Songs of Innocence’

William Blake became quite a learned man, mixing with some of the radical thinkers of his time, amongst them theologians and scientists, philosophers, artists, and early feminists. He learned Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian, so that he could read classical texts in their original language. His work ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, written in the wake of 1790, is a series of prose texts depicting his visit to hell in a way reminiscent to Dante’s poem ‘Divine Comedy’ or Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. This is where appears his famous quote where he describes, in a few illuminating words, the true nature of experience hidden behind the unfortunate veiling of the senses.

If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things
thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (A Memorable Fancy)


004F2489-BDBA-406F-80EB-61CC88BF590DEurope a Prophecy’ – William Blake, 1794 – Wikimedia

He then goes on describing how “finite organical perception” doesn’t deliver the truth on the nature of experience, but is in fact a limiting factor, unable to convey the “immense world of delight” that reality is in its primal essence. He wrote in ‘Visions of Daughters of Albion’: “They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up. And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle.”

Every Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight,
clos’d by your senses five.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (A Memorable Fancy)

Energy is Eternal Delight.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (Plate 4)

I . Mans perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception. he
percieves more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover.”
~ ‘There is No Natural Religion’ (Plate 2)

I saw no God, nor heard any, in any finite organical perception;
but my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (A Memorable Fancy)

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie,
When you see with, not through, the eye.”
~ ‘The Everlasting Gospel’

Every thing that lives is Holy.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (Chorus)

Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that called Body
is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses.”
~ ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (The voice of the Devil)


In his work ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, William Blake has inserted a passage called ‘Proverbs of Hell’. It is a series of short, often radical and paradoxical sentences where he asserts that our everyday, apparently separate reality is not to be condemned or feared. In fact, he shows that our experience is in fact intimately woven with our very being:

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

Every thing possible to be believd is an image of truth.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock,
but of wisdom: no clock can measure.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

One thought. fills immensity.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

The soul of sweet delight. can never be defil’d.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

Exuberance is Beauty.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

Improvement makes strait roads,
but the crooked roads without Improvement,
are roads of Genius.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

Where man is not nature is barren.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
~ ‘Proverbs of Hell’


CC0EE89A-686E-4F0B-B4BA-E52A01C924EA‘Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels’ – William Blake, 1805 – Wikimedia


William Blake’s understanding of the nature of experience led him to have a passion for life and its many forms. He abhorred the common religious attitude of suppression of earthly desires and joys. To him, “this world is all one continued vision of fancy or imagination.” He saw the world as the direct emanation of god’s being, with qualities such as beauty, joy, eternity, truth, intimately woven in the very fabric of experience. These quotes are a testament of his enthusiasm for the world…

Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed and governd their Passions or have No Passions but because they have Cultivated their Understandings. The Treasures of Heaven are not Negations of Passion but Realities of Intellect from which All the Passions Emanate Uncurbed in their Eternal Glory.”
~ ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement’

Arise you little glancing wings & sing your infant joy
Arise & drink your bliss
For every thing that lives is holy for the source of life
I wake sweet joy in dens of sorrow & I plant a smile
In forests of affliction
And wake the bubbling springs of life in regions of dark death
~ ‘Vala, or The Four Zoas’

To the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers. You certainly mistake, when you say that the visions of fancy are not to be found in this world. To me this world is all one continued vision of fancy or imagination.”
~ ‘Letter to the Rev. Dr. Trusler’


Youth of delight come hither:
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.”
~ ‘The Voice of the Ancient Bard’

– “What!” it will be questioned, “when the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea?”
– “Oh! no, no! I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host, crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!
~ ‘A Vision of the Last Judgment’

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
~ Poem ‘Opportunity’

To see a world in a grain of sand
⁠And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
⁠And Eternity in an hour.”
~ Poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’

I will sing you to this soft lute, and show you all alive
This world, where every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.”
~ ‘Europe’ (Preface)

We are led to believe a lie
When we see with not through the eye
Which was born in a night to perish in a night
When the soul slept in beams of light.”
~ Poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’

In one of his letters, William Blake wrote: “I still and shall to eternity embrace Christianity, and adore Him who is the express image of God; but I have travelled through perils and darkness not unlike a champion. I have conquered, and shall go on conquering. Nothing can withstand the fury of my course among the stars of God and in the abysses of the accuser. My enthusiasm is still what it was, only enlarged and confirmed.” This fiery spirit of the poet is again shown in the preface of ‘Milton’, his epic poem written in 1810, where he depicts the poet John Milton returning from Heaven to engage in a spiritual journey with himself. His prefatory poem ends with a quote from the Bible (Numbers, 11:29): “Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets”.


We do not want either Greek or Roman Models
if we are but just & true to our own Imaginations,
those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live for ever,
in Jesus Our Lord.

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold,
Bring me my Arrows of desire,
Bring me my Spear — O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green & pleasant land.

Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets.”

~ ‘Milton’ (Prefatory poem)


Christ Blessing’ – William Blake, 1810 – Wikimedia

Nowhere is William Blake’s own mythology and symbolism more apparent than in his last work ‘Jerusalem’, subtitled ‘The Emanation of the Giant Albion’. Written between 1804 and 1820, the work describes the fall of Albion, which represents here both Britain or the Western man. Ignored at the time, ‘Jerusalem’ consists of 100 etched and illustrated plates loaded with the poet’s rich vision.

Our wars are wars of life, & wounds of love,
With intellectual spears, & long winged arrows of thought:
Mutual in one anothers love and wrath all renewing
We live as One Man.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 34)

EACH Man is in his Spectre’s power
Until the arrival of that hour,
When his Humanity awake,
And cast his Spectre into the Lake
~ ‘Jerusalem’

There is a Void, outside of Existence, which if enterd into
Englobes itself & becomes a Womb.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 1)

For every thing exists & not one sigh nor smile nor tear,
One hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 13 & 14)

But the perturbed Man away turns down the valleys dark;
[Saying. We are not One: we are Many, thou most simulative]
Phantom of the over heated brain! shadow of immortality!
Seeking to keep my soul a victim to thy Love! which binds
Man the enemy of man into deceitful friendships.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 4)

O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!
Guide thou my hand which trembles exceedingly upon the rock of ages.”
~ ‘Jerusalem’ (Plate 5)

It is only in the 20th century that William Blake’s work gained full recognition. Its influence is felt amongst artists, poets, musicians and spiritual seekers alike, and some critics have seen him as an early exponent of ideas that were later developed by both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Jung said of his work: “Blake [is] a tantalizing study, since he compiled a lot of half or undigested knowledge in his fantasies.” Many poets and musicians of the beat generation have also cited his work, from Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan, from Aldous Huxley to Jim Morrison.

Mental things are alone real: what is called corporeal nobody knows of;
its dwelling-place is a fallacy, and its existence an imposture.
Where is the existence out of mind, or thought?—where is it but in the mind of a fool?
~ ‘A Vision of the Last Judgment’

William Blake had understood that artistry consists of rendering to our world its original and truthful nature of spirit, beauty, and love. That’s why artists can forever write, paint, or compose from apparently physical experience. Not for itself, but for the god-like qualities that are enclosed in its making. The story of manhood is taking place in and as spirit. Our whole life is an emanation of spirit. And as spirit, we are raised to the level of makers or creators. The etymology of the word ‘poet’ is a Greek word meaning ‘to make’, and the ‘maker’ was traditionally a word given to god. We are the shapers of our world. There is a grandeur in every human lives as the capacity to create and shape our world through our internal vision. That’s god’s ultimate justice. This is the “Poetic Genius” or “True Man” that William Blake attempted to describe throughout all his creation. That’s what Shakespeare so beautifully expressed in these lines from ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’:
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
   Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
   The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
   A local habitation and a name.”
In his work ‘All Religions are One’, William Blake is describing the nature of this ‘Poetic Genius’, which is the one creative spirit binding all humans together. It is the one being that we all share, and through which life becomes a pure creative process.

The Poetic Genius is the True Man, and […]
the Body or Outward Form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius.”
~ ‘All Religions are One’

None by travelling over known lands can find out the unknown;
so, from already acquired knowledge, Man could not acquire more;
therefore an universal Poetic Genius exists.”
~ ‘All Religions are One’

As all men are alike, tho’ infinitely various; so all Religions:
and as all similars have one source the True Man is the source, he being the Poetic Genius.”
~ ‘All Religions are One’

William Blake died in 1827. His final years were spent in great poverty. Such was his creative power that some of his productions, misunderstood at the time, were judged heretical and destroyed. Until the very end, he worked passionately, illustrating Dante’s ‘Inferno’ as his final project. See with what tenderness he describes the one nature enclosed in every being as beauty:

Seest thou the little winged fly smaller than a grain of sand?
It has a heart like thee: a brain open to heaven & hell,
Withinside wondrous & expansive: its gates are not clos’d:
I hope thine are not: hence it clothes itself in rich array:
Hence thou art cloth’d with human beauty
~ Milton (Book the First)


286DE565-2E11-4B37-8898-ACD43F70B4CB‘Job’s Evil Dreams’ (illustration) – William Blake, 1821 – Wikimedia



Poetry, quotes, and paintings by William Blake (1757-1827)

Painting of William Blake by Thomas Phillips (1770-1845)

Additional text by Alain Joly



– ‘The Complete Illuminated Books’ – by William Blake – (Thames & Hudson Ltd)
–  ‘The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake’ – by William Blake – (Anchor)

William Blake (Wikipedia)
Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (Wikipedia)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Wikipedia)
Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Wikipedia)
Milton: A Poem in Two Books (Wikipedia)
Thomas Phillips (Wikipedia)


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