Glossary entry for
Blake, William

Ancient of Days The following extract was originally from the William Blake home page:

William Blake (b. Nov. 28, 1757, London -- d. Aug. 12, 1827, London) was the first of the great English Romantic poets, as well as a painter, engraver and printer.

Blake is frequently referred to as a mystic, but this is not really acurate. He deliberately wrote in the style of the Hebrew prophets and envisioned his works as expressions of prophecy, following in the footsteps (or, more precisely strapping on the sandles) of Elijah and Milton.

The image shown here is one of Blake's most famous, titled "The Ancient of Days", which also happens to be the title of a Van Morrison song. The relief etching with watercolour appeared as the frontispiece to Blake's Europe: A Prophecy of 1794. Blake did not give the image a title; as Martin Butler (The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake, 1981) writes

It was J.T. Snow [Nollekens and his Times, 1828] who first called this design "The Ancient of Days", relating it to Proverbs, viii, 27, but Blake's meaning is closer to that of this own Urizen, 1794, where, on plate 20, Urizen 'formed golden compasses And began to explore the Abyss'. The Creator is equated with Urizen, whose rational and materialist creation of the world excludes imagination.

The symbolism of this illustration, and its relationship to Blake's writings, is described in Kenneth Clark's The Romantic Rebellion: Romantic versus Classic Art (1973). There is also a separate Glossary entry with more background on the term "The Ancient of Days".

Downloadable versions of Blake's "Ancient of Days" painting can be found at the William Blake home page (30Kb) and a larger, far more colour-rich version at the WebMuseum, Paris (150Kb).

"Let the Slave" and "The Price of Experience" are two separate excerpts from The Four Zoas which is one of Blakes long prophetic poems.

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