10 Best William Blake Poems You Should Read

William Blake, an eminent poet, painter, and printmaker of the Romantic Age, was born in London in 1757. He is perhaps best known for his ability to create profound and visionary works that have left an indelible mark on English poetry. Blake’s poems are often marked by their vivid imagery, unique symbolism, and deep explorations of complex themes like innocence and experience, love and hatred, and the human soul’s connection to the divine.

Blake’s work was largely unrecognised during his lifetime, and his distinct style often set him apart from his contemporaries. It was only after his death that his genius began to be fully appreciated, and he has since become one of the most studied and admired poets in the English language. His influence is evident in various art forms, including music, painting, and literature, inspiring numerous artists and thinkers.

In this article, we will take a closer look at some of William Blake’s best poems, each of which demonstrates his unique ability to convey profound emotions and insights. From the haunting imagery of “The Tyger” to the poignant questions raised in “The Lamb,” these poems continue to captivate readers and offer a glimpse into Blake’s remarkable mind.

1. 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 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

“London” is a poem that provides a dark and gritty snapshot of the city’s urban life. The poem reflects the corruption, suffering, and despair that Blake observed in the city streets. The repetition of the word “chartered” in the first stanza emphasizes the commercial and controlled nature of the city, leaving no room for natural or individual expression. The poem’s bleak tone and powerful imagery provide a scathing critique of social inequality and the loss of humanity.

2. The Tyger

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?

“The Tyger” is one of Blake’s most famous and frequently anthologised poems. It is a part of his “Songs of Experience” collection and contrasts with its companion poem, “The Lamb.” The poem explores the fierce and terrifying aspects of creation, symbolized by the fearsome tiger. It delves into the complexity of the creator’s mind and the paradox of creating something both beautiful and terrifying. The rhythmic pattern and vivid imagery make “The Tyger” a thrilling and thought-provoking read.

3. The Sick Rose

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.

“The Sick Rose” is a concise yet highly symbolic poem that encapsulates Blake’s views on love, innocence, and corruption. It personifies a rose that has been struck by a “worm,” a metaphor for a hidden, corrupting force. The sickness within the rose symbolizes a more profound moral decay, illustrating how innocence can be destroyed by hidden evils. The simple yet profound language makes “The Sick Rose” a compelling exploration of these themes.

4. The Little Black Boy

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.

“The Little Black Boy” is part of Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” collection and offers a poignant commentary on race and equality. It tells the story of a young African boy who learns from his mother about God’s love and the spiritual equality of all human beings. Though it reflects the racial stereotypes of its time, it also transcends them, emphasizing the universal nature of the human soul. Its touching narrative and heartfelt message make it a standout work in Blake’s oeuvre.

5. The Lamb

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.

“The Lamb” is a gentle and lyrical poem that explores the innocence and purity associated with the symbol of the lamb. It is the companion piece to “The Tyger,” presenting the softer side of creation. In the poem, a child speaker addresses the lamb itself, explaining its connection to Christ and the divine love that it embodies. The repetitive and melodic lines create a soothing effect, making “The Lamb” a warm and inviting poem that resonates with readers of all ages.

6. A Poison Tree

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.

“A Poison Tree” delves into the human emotions of anger and resentment, exploring how they can grow and become destructive if not addressed. The metaphor of the poison tree represents the festering of unexpressed anger, which ultimately leads to deadly consequences. Blake uses vivid imagery and simple language to convey the dangers of suppressing emotions, making this poem a profound lesson on the importance of self-awareness and emotional honesty.

7. The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

“The Garden of Love” is a symbolic poem that critiques the repressive nature of religion and social conventions. Blake describes a garden that once symbolized joy and love but has now become a place of restriction and sorrow. The transformation of the garden into a graveyard illustrates how human institutions can stifle natural emotions and desires. Its compelling imagery and critical tone make “The Garden of Love” a stirring examination of societal constraints.

8. The Clod and the Pebble

“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

“The Clod and the Pebble” contrasts two different perspectives on love, represented by a soft clod of clay and a hard pebble. The clod views love as selfless and nurturing, while the pebble sees it as selfish and dominating. Through this juxtaposition, Blake invites readers to reflect on the complex and multifaceted nature of love. The allegorical elements and profound insights make this poem a timeless exploration of human relationships.

9. Ah! Sun-flower

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

“Ah! Sun-flower” is a short yet evocative poem that speaks to the universal longing for transcendence and spiritual growth. The sunflower’s yearning to follow the sun symbolizes the human desire to reach higher realms of existence. Its concise language and potent symbolism create a profound emotional impact, encapsulating Blake’s fascination with spiritual journeys and human potential.

10. Auguries of Innocence

Auguries of Innocence” is a longer poem that encompasses Blake’s philosophical and spiritual beliefs. It is a collection of paradoxical statements and proverbs that reflect on innocence, experience, and the interconnectedness of all things. Its wide-ranging themes and intricate language make “Auguries of Innocence” a dense and rewarding poem that encapsulates many of Blake’s core ideas and beliefs.

Conclusion

William Blake’s poems are a rich tapestry of imagination, symbolism, and profound insight. They continue to inspire and challenge readers, offering a unique window into the human soul and the eternal questions of existence. From his critical observations in “London” to the universal longing expressed in “Ah! Sun-flower,” Blake’s works are timeless contributions to English poetry. His ability to craft poignant narratives and evoke powerful emotions ensures that his legacy as one of the most influential poets of the Romantic era endures. His poems are not just literary masterpieces but also philosophical treatises that continue to resonate with contemporary audiences, making him an essential figure in the world of literature.

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