In 1801, while residing on the Sussex coast, William Blake was out for a long rural stroll when he got into a dispute with a thistle. Unlike several of his Romantic contemporaries, the artist, poet, and musician who experienced beatific experiences during his 69 years on Earth did not roam alone as a cloud.
The thorny plant he came upon this time also took the shape of a hectoring old man. The two appeared to be inseparable to Blake.
William Blake: Biography offers glimpse into artist and poet's visionary mind https://t.co/uoz3S1Amh4
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 26, 2021
The son of a London shopkeeper (who didn’t attend to school) saw God, angels, and devils on a regular basis, and frequently communicated with the soul of his deceased brother Robert. “I see so little of my spouse, he’s always in paradise,” Catherine once said.
Blake’s worldview was shaped by these divine and mind-bending encounters, which spawned deeply intellectual illustrated writings like Jerusalem and Milton.
As a result, much of 18th and 19th century England thought William Blake was insane, and he died destitute and largely unnoticed.
He is now largely regarded as one of the most prominent and respected artists and poets in the United Kingdom.
In his new biography, William Blake vs the World, author John Higgs claims that we now have a much better understanding of what went on within Blake’s psyche.
“Historically, Blakeans have been uncomfortable about the matter,” Higgs tells the BBC. In his lifetime, he only had one show, which sold no paintings and received one review that referred to him as “an unhappy crazy.” As a result, the accusation of insanity followed him about all day. Scholars of Van Gogh are delighted to recognize that he struggled with mental illness, as it contributes to their comprehension of him.
[However,] Blake experts have long argued that he was not insane, that the system he established – the mythical system he created – has a reason, logic, and value.”
He goes on to say: “I believe we’ve arrived at a point where we can confidently state that he was [sane]. However, he endured a time of bad mental health. There were references to sadness as an illness and depression in his letters, as well as later episodes that showed evidence of paranoia.” Those mental health difficulties emerged around 1800.
“It was only a moment in his life,” Higgs says, “and you can see at the end of his life how he came through it with the aid of his wife and was just in a very wonderful place.”
Blake’s high appreciation for opposing states, as indicated by Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, implies he understood that what rises must fall.
Take a look inside your mind’s eye.
He believed that re-balancing the imagination (or The Four Zoas) so that the left-brain – the part that deals with logic, reason, and language – was less dominant, unlocking the potential of the right side, which deals with creativity, emotions, and physical pleasure – was the key to achieving timeless bliss.
The polymath emphasized the necessity of seeing things through one’s mind’s eye rather than the organs on either side of one’s nose. Higgs references the work of neuroscientist Dr. Adam Zeman, who has spent decades studying the imagination. He originally described aphantasia in 2015, a disorder in which some people are unable to visualize mental images.
In other words, they didn’t have a mental image.
Hyperphantasia was a term used to describe people who had extraordinarily vivid imaginations on the other end of the spectrum.