Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blake in South London

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake, visionary poet, artist, and radical. Blake spent part of his adult life in Lambeth at 13 Hercules Buildings, but he was familiar with many parts of South London.

From childhood he spent time wandering all over London and famously had a vision of angels in a tree in Peckham Rye. This is commemorated today in a mural near Goose Green (East Dulwich) . The incident is related by Blake's first biographer, Alexander Gilchrist:

"On Peckham Rye (by Dulwich Hill) it is, as he will in after years relate, that while quite a child, of eight or ten perhaps, he has his "first vision." Sauntering along, the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars. Returned home he relates the incident, and only through his mother's intercession escapes a thrashing from his honest father, for telling a lie". Where exactly this took place is unknown; Peckham Rye at that time covered a much larger area than the current park. Blake's writings are full of references to the South London landscape:

"Wild Thyme from Wimbledon's green and impurpled hills" (Milton).

"Hand had his Furnace on Highgate's heights and it reached To Brockley Hills across the Thames" (Jerusalem).

"Jerusalem came down in a dire ruin over all the Earth, She fell cold from Lambeth's Vales in groans and dewy death" (Vala, or the Four Zoas)

"The Surrey hills glow like the clinkers of the furnace; Lambeth's Vale Where Jerusalem's foundations began, where they were laid in ruin... Return, return to Lambeth's Vale. O building of human souls!" (Milton)

"...from Lambeth We began our Foundations, lovely Lambeth. O lovely Hills of Camberwell, we shall behold you no more in glory and pride, For Jerusalem lies in ruins and the Furnaces of Los are builded there" (Jerusalem)

See also Dance of Albion. The mural on Goose Green in East Dulwich was originally painted by Stan Peskett in 1993.

No comments: