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innocence of his spirit, as it kept him safe from the taint of the world, also rendered him incapable of receiving that enlargement of sympathy and deepening of emotion which others differently constituted may gain from contact with actual life. His imagination was not of the kind that could deal with the complex problems of human passion ; he retained to the end of his days the happy ignorance as well as the freshness of childhood : and it is therefore perhaps less wonderful in his case than it would be in the case of a poet of richer and more varied humanity that he should be able to display at once and in early youth the full measure of his powers.
But this acknowledgment of the inherent limitation of Blake's poetic gift leads us by a natural process to a clearer recognition of its great qualities. His detachment from the ordinary currents of practical thought left to his mind an unspoiled and delightful simplicity which has perhaps never been matched in English poetry. The childlike beauty of his poems is entirely free from the awkward lisp of wisdom that condescends. It is always unconscious and always unstrained, and even the simplicity of a poet like Wordsworth must often seem by comparison to be tinged with a didactic spirit. Blake's verse has indeed, both as regards intellectual invention and executive skill, a kind of unpremeditated charm that forces comparison with the things of inanimate life. Where he is successful his work has the fresh perfume and perfect grace of a flower, and at all times there is the air of careless growth that belongs to the shapes of outward nature. And yet this quality of simplicity is constantly associated with an unusual power of rendering the most subtle effects of beauty. In the actual processes of his art Blake could command the utmost refinement and delicacy of style. He possessed in a rare degree the secret by which the loveliness of a scene can be arrested and registered in a line of verse, and he often displays a faultless choice of larguage and the finest sense of poetic melody.
We have said already that he worked in absolute independence of the accepted models of his time. This is strictly true : but it would be absurd therefore to assume that he laboured without any models at all. Blake's isolation, if we look to the character of the man, is indeed less extraordinary than it would otherwise appear. He did not mingle in the concerns of life in such a way as to expose him to the dangers of being unduly swayed by the caprices of fashion. His was a world of his own creating, and to his vivid imagination the poets of an earlier generation would seem as near as the versifiers of his own day. That he should have chosen from the past those models whose example was most needed in order to infuse a new life into English poetry proves of course the justice of his poetic instinct. In fixing upon the great writers of the Elizabethan age he anticipated, as we have already observed, the taste of a succeeding generation, and it is only to be regretted that he did not absolutely confine himself to these nobler models of style. Unfortunately however his own intellectual tendency towards mysticism, found only too ready encouragement in the prophetic vagueness of the Ossianic verse, and we may fairly trace a past at least of Blake's obscurer manner to this source.
[From Poetical Sketches.]
TO THE EVENING STAR.
Thou fair-haired Angel of the Evening,
How sweet I roamed from field to field,
And tasted all the summer's pride ;
Who in the sunny beams did glide.
And blushing roses for my brow;
Where all his golden pleasures grow.
And Phæbus fired my vocal rage ;
And shut me in his golden cage.
Then laughing sports and plays with me,
And mocks my loss of liberty.
My silks and fine array,
My smiles and languished air, By love are driven away ;
And mournful lean Despair Brings me yew to deck my grave : Such end true lovers have.
His face is fair as heaven
When springing buds unfold ; Oh, why to him was 't given
Whose heart is wintry cold ? His breast is love's all-worshipped tomb Where all love's pilgrims come.
Bring me an axe and spade,
Bring me a winding sheet ; When I my grave have made,
Let winds and tempest beat ; Then down I'll lie as cold as clay. True love doth pass away!
Memory, hither come
And tune your merry notes ;
Your music floats,
I'll drink of the clear stream,
And hear the linnet's song,
The day along ;
The wild winds weep,
And the night is a cold,
And my griefs enfold :
Lo! to the vault
Of pavèd heaven
My notes are driven ;
Like a fiend in a cloud
With howling woe After night I do crowd
And with night will go; I turn my back to the east From whence comforts have increased; For light doth seize my brain With frantic pain,