In probably the most famous example of Swedenborg’s influence, William Blake was reading the Swedish philosopher during his most prolific period of writing in the 1790s. Though critical understanding of Blake’s attitude to Swedenborg often points to a fractious, vacillating relationship, there is no doubt that Swedenborg’s visionary works left their mark on Blake’s own visionary and prophetic verse.
Writer and religious rebel, William Blake (1757-1827) sowed the seeds for Romanticism in his innovative poems concerning faith and the visions that inspired him throughout his life. Whether describing his own spirituality, the innocence of youth or the corruption caused by mankind, his writings depict a world in which spirits dominate and the mind is the gateway to heaven. This collection of his greatest works spans his entire poetic life from the early, exquisite lyrics of Poetic Sketches to his Songs of Innocence and Experience—a compelling exploration of good and evil. Together, they illuminate a self-made realm that has fascinated artists and poets as diverse as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Yeats and Ginsberg.
WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827). Poet and artist. An early reader of Swedenborg, Blake was present at the first conference of the New Jerusalem Church held at Great East Cheap in the City of London in April 1789. Although he did not stay with the organization and was fiercely critical of Swedenborg in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-3), Blake was to praise Swedenborg on later occasions and acknowledge his influence, calling him a ‘divine teacher’ in a conversation in 1825 recorded by Henry Crabb Robinson. The influence of Swedenborg’s teachings may be found in many places in his poetry, prose and visual art. One of his oldest and closest friends was the sculptor John Flaxman, a founder member of the Swedenborg Society. Reference: Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship, ed. H F Bellin and D Ruhl (West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1985). The essays by Morton Paley and Kathleen Raine in that book are particularly important in assessing Swedenborg’s influence on Blake.