Wednesday

Nov. 28, 2007

London

by William Blake

WEDNESDAY, 28 NOVEMBER, 2007
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Poem: "London" by William Blake, Public Domain.

London

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd 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-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the 250th birthday of William Blake, (books by this author) born in London (1757), who was 4 years old when he saw God's head appear in a window, later saw the prophet Ezekiel sitting in a field, and once came upon a tree full of angels. He tried to tell his parents about these visions, but his father threatened to beat him for lying, so he stopped mentioning it.

Instead, he began drawing pictures, and his work was so promising that his parents sent him to art school to become an engraver. He learned how to engrave copper plates for printing illustrations in books, and he went on to produce the illustrations for books about architecture, botany, and medicine. His work was so good that he was commissioned to come up with his own illustrations for the work of Chaucer, Dante, and selections from the Bible, which are now considered among the greatest works of engraving ever produced. He even invented a method of printing illustrations in color, and art historians still aren't sure how he did it.

But as he became more famous for his artwork, Blake also began telling the artists and publishers he worked with that he was regularly visited by angels, and that he had conversations with him. He told a friend that he had discussed Renaissance art with the archangel Gabriel, and Gabriel preferred the paintings of Michelangelo to those of Raphael. Blake's work as an illustrator grew more and more bizarre, until finally he could only make a living by selling watercolors to a small group of private collectors.

Blake had also been writing poetry for much of his life, and since he had his own printing press, he decided to print it himself. He developed a process of writing his poems directly on copper plates and then engraving illustrations around them. He would print a few dozen copies and stitch them into pamphlets, which he sold himself. His books got no attention in his lifetime. Most critics dismissed him as a madman. He died in 1827, and it wasn't until 1863 that a biography about him persuaded people to read his poetry for the first time. Today, he's best known for the poems he wrote for children, Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794).

William Blake, who wrote, "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."

He also said, "Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow."


It's the birthday of music producer Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown Records, born in Detroit (1929). He was working on an assembly line at the Ford Motor Company when he first began writing songs in his head to relieve the monotony. He borrowed $700 from his family to start a recording studio in 1959, and he got his first big hit in 1960 with the song "Shop Around" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Motown Records went on to record music by the Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5.


It's the birthday of the novelist Rita Mae Brown, (books by this author) born in Hanover, Pennsylvania (1944), who wrote Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), one of the first lesbian coming-of-age novels ever published in America. It was rejected by all the major publishers, so she went with a tiny press called Daughters, Inc., with no real advertising budget, but the book got passed around and became a word-of-mouth best seller, selling more than a million copies.

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