William Blake’s Songs of Experience
In celebration of William Blake’s birthday today, it is my pleasure to publish his Songs of Experience from 1794, complementing his Songs of Innocence in ”Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.”
The only prize I ever won was a copy of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence & Experience” awarded to me for English composition at the age of seventeen, yet it was one of the greatest gifts I ever received and I have carried this treasured book with me through life as an enduring source of inspiration. Years ago, when I found myself living in a council flat in Bunhill Row next to the City of London, I was heartened on waking each morning to see the memorial to Blake in Bunhill Fields, the Dissenters’ graveyard, from my window.
Blake came there in the summer of 1784 when his father was buried in a mass grave and again in 1792 for the interment of his mother. Wishing to be close to them, he was buried there in the summer of 1827, nine feet under, in an elm coffin with three other bodies beneath him and another four above.
Today, whenever I walk from Spitalfields to Covent Garden, I always make the detour through Bunhill Fields to pay my respects to William Blake and his literary neighbours in eternity, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan. Passing along the narrow path between the crowded graves - paved with large tombstone slabs from which the lettering has worn away, overhung by tall trees and girded by green railings – it never fails to dispel my trivial concerns and replace them with metaphysical reflection.
In Blake’s time, it was possible to walk from the London out into the fields and, although his life was mostly occupied within the maze of narrow streets between Holborn, the Strand and Oxford St, we know that he regularly wandered far into the countryside and so it is not hard to imagine him, as a young man enraptured by visions, strolling through Spitalfields.
Memorials to Daniel Defoe and William Blake in Bunhill Fields, the Dissenters’ graveyard outside the wall of the City of London. Blake’s mortal remains lie nearby in an unmarked mass grave for paupers.
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