Life of William Blake (1863), Volume 2/Poetical Sketches

For other versions of these selections, see Poetical Sketches


[Printed in 1783. Written 1768—77. Æt. 11—20.]

There is no need for many further critical remarks on these selections from the Poetical Sketches, which have already been spoken of in Chap. VI. of the Life. Among the lyrical pieces here chosen, it would be difficult to award a distinct preference. These Songs are certainly among the small class of modern times which recall the best period of English song writing, whose rarest treasures lie scattered among the plays of our Elizabethan dramatists. They deserve no less than very high admiration in a quite positive sense, which cannot be even qualified by the slight, hasty, or juvenile imperfections of execution to be met with in some of them, though by no means in all. On the other hand, if we view them comparatively; in relation to Blake's youth when he wrote them, or the poetic epoch in which they were produced; it would be hardly possible to over-rate their astonishing merit. The same return to the diction and high feeling of a greater age is to be found in the unfinished play of Edward the Third, from which some fragments are included here. In the original edition, however, these are marred by frequent imperfections in the metre (partly real and partly dependent on careless printing), which I have thought it best to remove, as I found it possible to do so without once, in the slightest degree, affecting the originality of the text. The same has been done in a few similar instances elsewhere. The poem of Blind-man's Buff stands in curious contrast with the rest, as an effort in another manner and, though less excellent, is not without interest. Besides what is here given, there are attempts in the very modern-antique style of ballad prevalent at the time, and in Ossianic prose, but all naturally very inferior, and probably earlier. It is singular that, for formed style and purely literary qualities, Blake perhaps never afterwards equalled the best things in this youthful volume, though he often did so in melody and feeling, and more than did so in depth of thought.


MY silks and fine array,
   My smiles and languished air,
By love are driven away.
   And mournful lean Despair
Brings me yew to deck my grave:
Such end true lovers have.

His face is fair as heaven
   When springing buds unfold;
Oh, why to him was't given,
   Whose heart is wintry cold?
His breast is Love's all-worshipped tomb
Where all love's pilgrims come.
Bring me an axe and spade,
   Bring me a winding-sheet;
When I my grave have made,
   Let winds and tempests beat:
Then down I'll lie, as cold as clay.
True love doth pass away!


Love and harmony combine
And around our souls entwine,
While thy branches mix with mine
And our roots together join.
Joys upon our branches sit,
Chirping loud and singing sweet;
Like gentle streams beneath our feet,
Innocence and virtue meet.

Thou the golden fruit dost bear,
I am clad in flowers fair;
Thy sweet boughs perfume the air,
And the turtle buildeth there.

There she sits and feeds her young;
Sweet I hear her mournful song:
And thy lovely leaves among,
There is Love: I hear his tongue.

There his charm'd nest he doth lay,
There he sleeps the night away,
There he sports along the day,
And doth among our branches play.


I Love the jocund dance,
   The softly-breathing song,
Where innocent eyes do glance,
   Where lisps the maiden's tongue.

I love the laughing vale,
   I love the echoing hill,
Where mirth does never fail,
   And the jolly swain laughs his fill.

I love the pleasant cot,
   I love the innocent bower,
Where white and brown is our lot,
   Or fruit in the mid-day hour.

I love the oaken seat
   Beneath the oaken tree,
Where all the old villagers meet,
   And laugh our sports to see.

I love our neighbours all,
   But, Kitty, I better love thee;
And love them I ever shall,
   But thou art all to me.


The wild winds weep,
   And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
   And my griefs unfold!
But lo! the Morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And rustling birds of dawn
The earth do scorn.

Lo! to the vault
   Of paved heaven,
With sorrow fraught,
   My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
   Make weep the eyes of day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
   And with tempests play.

Like a fiend in a cloud,
   With howling woe
After night I do crowd,
   And with night will go;
I turn my back to the East
Whence comforts have increas'd;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.


How sweet I roamed fron field to field,
    And tasted all the snmmer's pride,
'Till I the Prince of Love beheld,
    Who in the sunny beams did glide!
He show'd me lilies for my hair,
    And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
    Where all his golden pleasures grow.

With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
    And Phoebus fired my vocal rage;
He caught me in his silken net,
    And shut me in his golden cage.

He loves to sit and hear me sing,
    Then, laughiug, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
    And mocks my loss of liberty.


Memory, hither come,
    And tune your merry notes;
And, while upon the wind
    Your music fioats,
I'll pore upon the stream
Where sighing lovers dream,
And fish for fancies as they pass
Within the watery glass.

I'll drink of the clear stream,
    And hear the linnet's song;
And there I'll lie and dream
    The day along:
And, when night comes, I'll go
To places fit for woe;
Walking along the darkened valley
With silent Melancholy.


Whether on Ida's shady brow,
    Or in the chambers of the East,
The chambers of the sun that now
    From ancient melody have ceased;

Whether in Heaven ye wander fair,
    Or the green corners of the earth,
Or the blue regions of the air,
    Where the melodious winds have birth;

Whether on crystal rocks ye rove
    Beneath the bosom of the sea,
Wandering in many a coral grove;
    Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry;

How have you left the ancient love
    That bards of old enjoy'd in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move,
    The sound is forced, the notes are few.


Thou fair-hair'd angel of the Evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountins, light
Thy brilliant torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves; and whilst thou drawest round
The curtains of the sky, scatter thy dew
On every flower that closes its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And then the lion glares through the dun forest.
The fleeces of our flocks are covered with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence.


O thou, with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro' the clear windows of the morning turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills do tell each other, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to thy bright pavilion: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime!

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy softest kisses on her bosom, and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish'd head
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee.


O though who passest thro' our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! Thou, O summer!
Oft pitched'st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven. Beside our springs
Sit down, and in odr mossy valleys; on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw all
Thy draperies off, and rush into the stream!
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are famed who strike the silver wire;
Our youths are bolder than the southern swains;
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance;
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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