10 Most Famous Poems by William Blake

William Blake (1757 – 1827) was an English poet, painter and printmaker, who remained largely unknown during his lifetime but rose to prominence after his death and is now considered a highly influential figure in the history of poetry and one of the greatest artists in Britain’s history. Blake’s most renowned work in poetry is Songs of Innocence and of Experience, considered one of the leading poetic works of the Romantic era. His collection often contains poems with similar themes, and at times the same title, to contrast the innocent world of childhood in Songs of Innocence with the corruption and repression of the adult world in Songs of Experience. Blake was deeply opposed to slavery; oppression of Church and the ruling classes; and the harmful effects of the Industrial Revolution. These themes often feature in his poems. Here are the 10 most famous poems of William Blake

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#10 The Little Black Boy

Collection:Songs of Innocence
Published:1789

Poem:-

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child: 
But I am black as if bereav'd of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree 
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say. 

Look on the rising sun: there God does live 
And gives his light, and gives his heat away. 
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love, 
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learn'd the heat to bear 
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice. 
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

Thus did my mother say and kissed me, 
And thus I say to little English boy. 
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy: 

Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear, 
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee. 
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.

Synopsis:-

Published at a time when slavery was legal, The Little Black Boy questions the conventions of the time with basic Christian ideals. The speaker is an African child who tells how his loving mother taught him about himself and God. He then passes on this lesson to an English child telling him that when they are both free of their bodies he will shade his white friend until he, too, learns to bear the heat of God’s love. The Little Black Boy is build on clear imagery of light and dark; and centres on a spiritual awakening to a divine love that transcends race.


#9 Holy Thursday

Collection:Songs of Innocence & of Experience
Published:1789 & 1794

Poem:-

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean 
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green 
Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow 

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town 
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own 
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs 
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands 

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song 
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among 
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor 
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

Synopsis:-

This title is shared by two poems of William Blake published in Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). In Songs of Innocence, the poem depicts a ceremony held on Ascension Thursday, which commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. It describes the clean-scrubbed charity-school children of London marching to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The children in their colourful dresses are compared to flowers. In Songs of Experience, Blake focuses more on society as a whole than on the ceremony. The theme of this poem is the hypocrisy of formal religion and its claimed acts of charity while children are still “reduced to misery”.


#8 The Sick Rose

Collection:Songs of Experience
Published:1794

Poem:-

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Synopsis:-

This is a short poem of two quatrains in which the speaker addresses a rose that is sick as an “invisible” worm has wriggled its way in and infected it. The “dark secret love” of this worm is destroying the rose’s life. The Sick Rose is regarded as one of the most enigmatic poems in the English language. There are numerous interpretations of the poem and many critics interpret it as a poem related to sex. Others consider the worm in the poem to be an agent of corruption and regard it as the direct equivalent of Man. The Sick Rose remains one of the most popular poems of Blake for its perplexing symbolism and various interpretations.



#7 Auguries of Innocence

Collection:The Pickering Manuscript
Published:1863

Poem:-

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
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage 
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions 
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear 
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing 
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright 
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul 
The wild deer, wandring here & there 
Keeps the Human Soul from Care 
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife 
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men 
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity 
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night 
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar 
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat 
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat 
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue 
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot 
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent 
It is right it should be so 
Man was made for Joy & Woe 
And when this we rightly know 
Thro the World we safely go 
Joy & Woe are woven fine 
A Clothing for the soul divine 
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine 
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands 
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity 
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight 
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar 
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death 
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear 
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands 
Or if protected from on high 
Does that whole Nation sell & buy 
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death 
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out 
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death 
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 
The Questioner who sits so sly 
Shall never know how to Reply 
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace 
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply 
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile 
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please 
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 
Theyd immediately Go out 
To be in a Passion you Good may Do 
But no Good if a Passion is in you 
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate 
The Harlots cry from Street to Street 
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 
Dance before dead Englands Hearse 
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

Synopsis:-

Written in 1803, this poem remained unpublished for 60 years till it was published along with Alexander Gilchrist’s biography of William Blake. Auguries of Innocence is a long assembly of different couplets which show cruel situations and auguries (signs) about what might happen if these kinds of injustices continue. In each of the rhyming couplets we see the juxtaposition of innocence and cruelty. The poem serves as a stark warning about the inevitable consequences for society when there is deliberate mistreatment of people and nature. The first four lines of the poem, in which Blake beautifully captures how one can find the universe in the smallest of things, are extremely renowned. Auguries of Innocence is among Blake’s most critically acclaimed works.


#6 The Chimney Sweeper

Collection:Songs of Innocence & of Experience
Published:1789 & 1794

Poem:-

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

Synopsis:-

This poem was published in two parts in Songs of Innocence and of Experience. During late 18th and early 19th century, child labour was prominent in England and four-five years old boys were sold to clean chimneys as their size was small. William Blake hated child labour and in this poem, he has expressed the difficult lives of working children. In Songs of Innocence, one of the chimney sweeper has a dream in which an angel rescues the boys from coffins and takes them to a sunny meadow; while in Songs of Experience, an adult speaker encounters a child chimney sweeper abandoned in the snow. The Chimney Sweeper is one of the most renowned poems of William Blake and it is considered an influential work on the exploitative nature of child labour.



#5 The Lamb

Collection:Songs of Innocence
Published:1789

Poem:-

Little Lamb who made thee 
         Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice! 
         Little Lamb who made thee 
         Dost thou know who made thee 

         Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
         Little Lamb I'll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb: 
He is meek & he is mild, 
He became a little child: 
I a child & thou a lamb, 
We are called by his name.
         Little Lamb God bless thee. 
         Little Lamb God bless thee.

Synopsis:-

The Lamb is one of the most important poems in Songs of Innocence. It’s parallel in Songs of Experience is Blake’s most famous poem, The Tyger. The Lamb is regarded as a poem on Christianity. In the first stanza, the speaker, a child, asks the lamb how it came into being. In the second stanza, the speaker answers his own question by stating that the lamb was created by one who “calls himself a Lamb”. The lamb is a common metaphor for Jesus Christ, who is also called “The Lamb of God”. The tone of the poem is innocent, simple and reassuring; though it focuses on the deep and complex theme of the nature of creation.


#4 A Poison Tree

Collection:Songs of Experience
Published:1794

Poem:-

I was angry with my friend; 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears: 
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night. 
Till it bore an apple bright. 
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine. 

And into my garden stole, 
When the night had veild the pole; 
In the morning glad I see; 
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Synopsis:-

A Poison Tree presents two scenario. In the first, the speaker is angry with a friend. He talks about his displeasure with his friend which helps him to overcome his wrath. In the second, he is angry with an enemy but is unable to speak about it. This increases his resentment with time and the feeling of hatred grows within him. Blake then uses the metaphor of a tree growing in the speaker’s garden to demonstrate how the anger continues to grow. The enemy of the speaker sneaks into his garden and eats an apple of this tree, which has been poisoned with hatred. The next morning, the speaker is happy to see that his foe is lying dead under the tree. A Poison Tree talks about the consequences of repressing anger and explores the themes of indignation, revenge and the fallen state of mankind. It is one of the most famous and acclaimed of Blake’s poems.



#3 And did those feet in ancient time

Alternate Title:Jerusalem
Published:1808

Poem:-

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands 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 Englands green & pleasant Land.

Synopsis:-

This is a short poem included in the preface of an epic poem by Blake titled Milton: A Poem in Two Books. Today it is popular as the anthem “Jerusalem”, whose music was composed by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. It shouldn’t be confused with a much longer poem by Blake called Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion. It is usually interpreted to be describing a Second Coming of Jesus Christ leading to the establishment of a New Jerusalem in England in contrast to the “dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution. Jerusalem in the poem is used as a metaphor for Heaven. “Jerusalem” is considered to be England’s most popular patriotic song; and The New York Times stated that it was “fast becoming an alternative national anthem” in England. It is used in many schools in UK and it was the opening hymn for the 2012 London Olympics.


#2 London

Collection:Songs of Experience
Published:1794

Poem:-

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 Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear 

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls, 
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls 

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear 
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

Synopsis:-

This poem consists of four quatrains in which the speaker describes the plight of London while he wanders through the city. He uses the term “chartered” for the city streets as well as for River Thames to indicate the oppressive and constraint atmosphere in the region. He sees despair and fear in the faces of the people he meets. Among other things, he talks about the money spent on church buildings while children live in poverty. London presents a bleak view of the city during the Industrial Revolution with the society being corrupt and dominated by materialism. It also points at the contrast between upper and working class people and suggests that the this could lead to a revolution in London like the recent French Revolution.


#1 The Tyger

Collection:Songs of Experience
Published:1794

Poem:-

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

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?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Synopsis:-

The Tyger is the counterpart to Blake’s poem in Songs of Innocence, The Lamb. In The Tyger, the speaker again focuses on the subject of creation asking who could have made such a terrifying beast as the tiger. The speaker talks about the fearful features of the tiger and wonders “did he who made the Lamb make thee?” before he ends the poem with the question with which he began, “What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”. The Tyger, with its strikingly powerful words, serves as a counter to the innocence and tenderness of The Lamb. It is one of the most analysed poems and Cambridge calls it the “the most anthologized poem in English”. The Tyger is not only the most famous work of William Blake but also one of the most popular poems in the English language.



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