William Blake's Notebook

1787 - 1818

William Blake's Notebook


  • 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

    William Blake's notebook

    Original text:


    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.


    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' [?] streets I hear
    How the midnight harlot's curse
    Blast the new born infant's tear
    And blights with plagues the marriage hearse

    But most the [shrieks?] 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 puts forth a thorn
    The humble sheep a threat’ning horn
    While the lilly white shall in love delight
    Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright

    [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 turns 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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