Friday, April 6, 2012

Blake's Soul

Robert Blair's poem The Grave was an enormous popular success in the 18th century. Written in 1743, it came out in nearly 50 separate editions by the end of the century. But, it is most famous today for an edition that came well after Blair's death. In 1808, William Blake used the popular "graveyard" poem as a vehicle for a set of 12 etchings showing his vision of life after death.

The book had an impressive list of subscribers, including the queen (who received a dedicatory poem by Blake). It was a bold move: Blake was still relatively unknown, while Blair's poem was standard reading. But in fact, Blake overwhelms the poem and takes over the book -- even putting his own portrait on the frontispiece in the place that should have been reserved for Blair.

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