William Blake's Notebook

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  • Intro

    William Blake (1757-1827) was an artist, poet, mystic, visionary and radical thinker. The closely-filled pages of this working notebook give a fascinating insight into his compositional process, allowing us to follow the genesis of some of his best-known work, including 'London', 'The Tyger' and 'The Sick Rose'. 

     

    It is believed that Blake first used the notebook in February 1787, starting from the front and entering a series of pencil emblems, framed in the centre of each page, under the tentative title 'Ideas of Good and Evil'. Blake's series of emblems in this notebook record man's journey from birth to death. From this series, Blake was to select 17 designs that he engraved and published in a small volume entitled For Children: The Gates of Paradise (1793). 

     

    At around the same time, having reached the end of the book, Blake turned it upside-down, and used these pages to transcribe fair copies (later heavily annotated) of earlier drafts of poems, many of which would appear in Songs of Experience (1794). When he started to enter these poems, some of the pages were already covered with sketches for an aborted edition of illustrations of John Milton's Paradise Lost. Some of these sketches were preserved, while others were overwritten. Although Blake mostly worked in this notebook between 1792 and 1794, he kept it with him throughout his life. He picked it up again to draft further poems at the front from 1801, and was still composing as late as 1818. 

     

    Working at a time of great social and political upheaval, Blake’s work explores the tensions between human passions and the repressive nature of social, religious and political conventions. Alongside searing observations of injustices in the physical world around him, he weaves mystical visions and esoteric meditations on the ‘contrary states of the human soul’. Although widely recognised today as one of the greatest poets of the 19th century, his work was largely ignored during his own lifetime, and took many years to gain widespread appreciation.

     

    Shelfmark: Add. MS 49460, f. 5

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  • Transcript

    Blake's notebook

    Original text:

     

    London

    I wander through each dirty street

    Near where the dirty Thames does flow

    And mark in every face I meet

    Marks of weakness, marks of woe

     

    In every cry of every man

    In every infant's cry of fear

    In every voice, in every ban

    The mind-forged manacles I hear

     

    How the chimney sweeper's cry

    Every blackening church appalls

    And the hapless soldier's sigh

    Runs in blood down palace-walls.

     

    _________________________

     

    I slept in the dark

    In the silent night

    I murmured my fears

    And I felt delight.

    In the morning I went

    As rosy as morn

    To seek for a new Joy

    But I met with scorn.

     

    _________________________

     

    [centre]

    But most the midnight harlot's curse

    From every dismal street I hear

    Weaves around the marriage hearse

    And blasts the new born infant's tear

    _________________________

    But most thro' [?] [?] I hear

    How the midnight harlot's curse

    Blast the new born infant's tear

    And [?] will plagues the marriage hearse

    But most the shreieks[?] of youth

    But most[?] thro midnight[?] 

    How the youthful

     

    _________________________

     

    To Nobodaddy

    Why art thou silent and invisible

    Father of jealousy

    Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds

    From every Eye

    Why darkness and obscurity

    In all thy words and laws

     

    That none dare the fruit but from

    The wily serpents jaws

    Or is it because Secresy

    gains females loud applause

     

    _________________________.

     

    The modest rose puls forth a thorn

    The humble sheep a [?] [?]

    While the lilly white shall in love delight

    Nor a thorn nor a [?] stain her [?] [?]

     

    [right hand side]

    When the voices of children are heard on the green

    And whispers are in the dale,

    The days of youth are fresh in my mind

    My face [?] green and pale

     

    Then come home my children, the sun is gone down

    And the dews of night arise

    Your spring and your day are wasted on play

    And your winter and night in disgrace

     

    _________________________

     

    Are not the joys of morning sweeter

    Than the joys of night

    And are the vigorous joys of youth

    Ashamed of the light

     

    Let age and sickness silent rob

    The vineyards in the night;

    But those who burn with vigorous youth

    Pluck fruits before the light.

     

    _________________________

     

    The Tyger

    1 Tyger Tyger burning bright

    In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye

    Could frame thy fearful symmetry

     

    2 In what distant deeps or skies

    Burnt the fire of thine eyes

    On what wings dare he aspire

    What the hand, dare sieze [sic] the fire

     

    3 And what shoulder, & what art

    Could twist the sinews of thy heart

    And when thy heart began to beat

    What dread hand & what dread feet

     

    4 What the hammer what the chain

    In what furnace was thy brain

    What the anvil what dread grasp

    Dare its deadly terrors clasp

     

    6 Tyger Tyger burning bright

    In the forests of the night

    What immortal hand or eye

    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry

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