Born in London, Blake lived almost his entire life there. As the second son of a working-class hosier he was never able to go to school. Instead, at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to an engraver and for the remainder of his life it was through this craft that he earned a somewhat precarious livelihood.
His deep mystical intuition and his skill and genius as an artist and poet went almost unrecognized during his lifetime. He was able to sell very little of his own artistic output, and his letters which we have are primarily thank you notes to his patrons.
|“William Blake is one of the great mystics of the world; and he is by far the greatest and most profound who has spoken in English. Like Henry More and Wordsworth, he lived in a world of glory, of spirit and of vision, which, for him, was the only real world. At the age of four he saw God looking in at the window, and from that time until he welcomed the approach of death by singing songs of joy which made the rafters ring, he lived in an atmosphere of divine illumination.”Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. (1913). Mysticism in English Literature|
When he was very young, Blake began to experience spiritual visions. When he was nine he saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” These mystical visions and his spiritual inspiration remained with him for the rest of his life.
In his mid-40s Blake lived for three years in a small cottage at Felpham on the Sussex coast where he saw angels descending on a ladder from heaven to his cottage. It was also at this time that he often saw fairies and once experienced what he understood to be a fairy’s funeral.
According to Blake, most of his work as a writer and artist was done under the direct inspiration of spiritual guides. In the introduction to his book on Milton, he explains:
“I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty lines at a time, without pre-meditation and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.”
Everything Blake created–his poems, his engravings, his illuminated books–were for the purpose of revealing to people the Higher Reality.
“I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity.”