William Blake Chooses Eternity

A wonderful paragraph from Peter Ackroyd’s biography of William Blake, where he shows how the poet slowly came to accept that if he was writing for anyone other than himself, it was for posterity; and how he charged ahead nevertheless:

His independence meant that he could preserve his vision beyond all taint—and that integrity is an essential aspect of his genius—but it also encouraged him to withdraw from the world of common discourse. Although these consequences were not immediately apparent, over the years his range of reference and allusion became more private and more confined. Out of his isolation he created a great myth, but it was one that was never vouchsafed to his contemporaries and one that, even now, is generally neglected or misunderstood. Blake’s life is in that sense a parable of the artist who avoids the market place, where all others come to buy and sell; he preserved himself inviolate, but his freedom became a form of solitude. He worked for himself, and he listened only to himself; in the process he lost any ability to judge his own work. He had the capacity to become a great public and religious poet but, instead, he turned in upon himself and gained neither influence nor reputation.

– Peter Ackroyd, Blake: A Biography, 162

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