William Blake in popular culture
William Blake's body of work has influenced countless writers, poets and painters, and his legacy is often apparent in modern popular culture. His artistic endeavours, which included songwriting in addition to writing, etching and painting, often espoused a sexual and imaginative freedom that has made him a uniquely influential figure, especially since the 1960s. Far more than any other canonical writer, his songs have been set and adapted by popular musicians including U2, Jah Wobble, Tangerine Dream, Bruce Dickinson and Ulver. Folk musicians, such as M. Ward, have adapted or incorporated portions of his work in their music, and figures such as Bob Dylan, Alasdair Gray and Allen Ginsberg have been influenced by him. The genre of the graphic novel traces its origins to Blake's etched songs and Prophetic Books, as does the genre of fantasy art.
Blake's illustrated books were much imitated in the early twentieth century, and the emergence of radical ideas about alternative futures heightened the appeal of Blake's prophetic literature. Aldous Huxley took up the idea of The Doors of Perception, in a 1954 book of the same name about mind expansion through ingestion of mescaline. C. S. Lewis took up the theme of Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in the preface of his book The Great Divorce, in which he describes Blake as a "great genius." William Butler Yeats edited a collection of Blake's poetry and considered himself the inheritor of his poetic mission.
Blake's painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (1806-1809) and the poem "Auguries of Innocence" both play a prominent role in Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon (1981), in which the killer Francis Dolarhyde has an obsession with the painting. Dolarhyde imagines himself 'becoming' a being like the Red Dragon featured in the paintings. In Hannibal, a copy of Blake's painting The Ancient of Days is owned by Mason Verger, a reference to Verger's Urizenic qualities.
Blake and his wife Kate are the major characters in Ray Nelson's science fiction novel Blake's Progress (1975), which subsequently was extensively rewritten and republished as Timequest (1985). William Blake's mapping of London in Jerusalem inspired London psychogeography in the work of novelist Iain Sinclair, biographer Peter Ackroyd and poet Aidan Dun, and his epic Milton a Poem was adapted by J. G. Ballard's 1979 novel, The Unlimited Dream Company.
Blake is described by Philip Pullman as one of three major literary influences on His Dark Materials, along with Heinrich von Kleist and John Milton. Pullman's stated intention was to invert Milton's story of a war between heaven and hell in the light of Blake's famous comment that Milton was "of the Devil's party without knowing it". Pullman stated that he "is of the Devil's party and does know it."
Ed Bemand's novel Beheld (2006) refers to both "The Fly" and "The Tyger" and describes ideas of perception inspired by Blake's work. The Blakean city Beulah is featured in Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve (1977) as an underground site for a female religious cult. Blake is a character in Tracy Chevalier's novel Burning Bright (2007), which centres on a family who live next door to him in Lambeth while he is writing Songs of Experience.
David Almond's Carnegie Medal-winning children's novel Skellig, a story about a 12-year-old boy named Michael and his meeting with a strange, angel-like creature, refers to Blake often. In the novel, the child Mina and her parents are proponents of Blake. Mina has a strong relationship to animals and "The Tyger" is quoted.
Many of the names of characters from Blake's myths are used in Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers books, including Urizen, Los, Orc, and Anana. This mythology is referred to by the characters in the stories (mainly in The Gates of Creation, Red Orc's Rage, and More than Fire). There is also a character based on Blake's painting "The Ghost of a Flea".
Similarly, in Crawford Kilian's novel The Fall of the Republic, when a gateway is found to a parallel world equivalent to 18th-century Earth, it is named Beulah, and other worlds at different points in the timestream are named for other Blake entities, such as Orc, Ahania, Los, Urthona, Thel, and Tharmas. In particular, a future world whose atmosphere has been devastated by unknown forces is called Ulro.
Visual arts, comics, and graphic novels
Blake was particularly influential on the young generation of early twentieth-century English landscape painters, such as Paul Nash and Dora Carrington. Abstract painter Ronnie Landfield dedicated a painting to Blake in the late 1960s. 
Blake is often cited as an inspiration in comic literature. Alan Moore cites Blake's work in V for Vendetta (1982-5) and Watchmen (1986-7). As an apparent homage to Blake's importance in Moore's work, a framed copy of Blake's watercolor "Elohim Creating Adam" can be seen when Evey first explores V's hideout in the film version of V for Vendetta. William Blake also becomes an important figure in Moore's later work, and is a featured character in From Hell (1991–98) and Angel Passage (2001). In From Hell, Blake appears as a mystical and occultic foil to William Gull's aristocratic plot to murder the prostitutes of Whitechapel in London. Gull appears to Blake in two visions over the course of Moore's comic, and becomes the inspiration for "The Ghost of a Flea." Angel Passage was performed at the 2001 Tate Gallery exhibition of Blake accompanied with art by John Coultart.
Grant Morrison, R. Crumb, and J. M. DeMatteis have all cited Blake as one of their major inspirations. Comic designer William Blake Everett claims to be descended from Blake. Blake's Urizen appears in an early issue of Morrison's Invisibles, as well as Todd McFarlane's occult superhero comic Spawn. Garth Ennis also cites Blake's work in the Punisher MAX one-shot titled "The Tyger."
Nancy Willard's book of poetry A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1982. The book combines verse with large gouache illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen which are whimsical and iconic, making great use of the architecture of Blake's England.
Blake has been quoted in comic strips as well. In a weekday strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin recites a line from Blake's "The Tyger", while viewing a sleeping Hobbes (a tiger), lightheartedly alluding to the lines "Tyger, Tyger, burning bright..." Calvin's reaction to the poem is a confused one, however, as he assumes Blake was literally writing about an immolated tiger.
In the episode "Full Frontal Nudity" (episode 8, season 1) of Monty Python's Flying Circus, produced in 1969, it is "Jerusalem" that must be sung to get a salesman to remove a bag over his head. Also, it is used repeatedly in the episode "Owl-Stretching Time" (Episode 4, Season 1) as Eric Idle sings it from the Cardiff rooms, Libya (although he replaces the word "feet" with "teeth"). After singing the line about "England's mountains green...." it cuts to a "Rustic monologue", which is broken up by the Colonel. Also, in the sketch "Salvation Fuzz/Church Police", when they arrest a man for murder, they "conclude this arrest with a hymn", and they proceed to sing this song. The song is also used in many other episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and appears in The Fairly Incomplete And Rather Badly Illustrated Monty Python Song Book as "Jerusalem".
Jack Shepherd's stage play In Lambeth dramatised a visit by Thomas Paine to the Lambeth Home of William and Catherine Blake in 1789, first performed at the East Dulwich Tavern in July 1989. The play was later adapted for television in the BBC Two Encounters series - which featured similar fictionalised meetings between historical figures - and was first broadcast on 4 July 1993. It was directed by Sebastian Graham-Jones, and featured Mark Rylance as William, Bob Peck as Paine, and Lesley Claire O'Neill as Katherine (sic).
In "Red Sky in the Morning", the May 2010 second-season finale of The Mentalist, the hero Patrick Jane's nemesis Red John quotes Blake's poem "The Tyger". "Red Sky at Night", which opened the third season in Sept. 2010, finds Jane reading a text-only version of Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, specifically the poem "The Divine Image". The Songs collection contains both poems.
One of Blake's illustrations of the Great Red Dragon was used on the October 7, 2013 episode of the Sleepy Hollow television show to illustrate a demon antagonist, Moloch.
In his movie Mean Streets (1973), Martin Scorsese refers to Blake's poem "The Tyger" when a young pet tiger makes Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro take refuge atop a couch, paralleling the grit and innocence of life in the city.
A variation on a verse from Blake's America a Prophecy appears in Ridley Scott's science fiction film Blade Runner (1982), spoken by Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer). This has been interpreted as a way of linking Batty to Blake's mythic regenerative hero Orc.
In Jim Jarmusch's 1995 western Dead Man, the central character, played by Johnny Depp, is named William Blake and allusions to Blake's poetry appear thematically as well as explicitly. A native American, called "Nobody", saves William Blake's life, and actually thinks that the person whose life he has saved is, in fact, William Blake the poet.
Blake or his work has also featured in other American independent films since 2000. Hal Hartley’s The New Math(s) (2000), in which two students fight with their teacher over the solution to a complex mathematical equation, takes as its inspiration Blake’s The Book of Thel, with music by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen. Similarly, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (2005), which is loosely based on the final hours of Kurt Cobain, has a central character called Blake. The Blakean allusions are subtle throughout the film and include Hildegard Westerkamp’s "Doors of Perception" soundscape, itself a response to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. At the end of the film, having committed suicide, Blake’s soul ascends from his body in a scene that directly references the illustrations to Robert Blair's The Grave, which was illustrated by Blake in 1808.
The film versions of the novel Red Dragon, Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002), include images of Blake's "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun". In the first film the character played by Tom Noonan sports a tattoo on his chest based on Blake's image of the dragon hovering over the woman. The second film has the character (played by Ralph Fiennes) display a stylised version of the dragon tattooed on his back.
Blake's work resides in the background of Peter Care's 2002 film The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys; a copy of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was a gift from an orphan boy's father and a central symbol in this film about boys who narrate their lives through comic book characters they create and draw. Blake's poem "The Garden of Love" is quoted in a scene in The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), directed by Ken Loach.
The image of V escaping the fire at Larkhill in the Wachowski brothers's V for Vendetta (2006) is very similar to Blake's images of Orc from the Illuminated Works (cf. Urizen plate 16; America plate 12), and an almost exact reproduction of plate 5 (V, had Blake used Roman numerals to number his plates) of "The Gates of Paradise," titled "Fire."
Blake's poems have been set to music by many composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten. In the early twentieth century British Classical song writers regularly set his work for voice or choir. The most famous musical setting is Hubert Parry's hymn Jerusalem, which was written as a patriotic song during World War I.
Contemporary classical composers have also continued to set Blake's work. Composer William Bolcom set the entire collection of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience in 1984, a recording of which was released in 2006. John Mitchell has also set songs from the Poetical Sketches as "Seven Songs from William Blake". Eve Beglarian has written a piece called "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" inspired by and using quotations from Blake's work of the same name.
With the emergence of modern popular music in the 1950s and 60s, Blake became a hero of the counter culture. Dylan's songs were compared to Blake. Dylan also collaborated with Allen Ginsberg to record two Blake songs. Ginsberg himself performed and recorded many Blake songs, claiming that the spirit of Blake had communicated musical settings of several Blake poems to him. He believed that in 1948 in an apartment in Harlem, he had had an auditory hallucination of Blake reading his poems "Ah, Sunflower," "The Sick Rose," and "Little Girl Lost" (later referred to as his "Blake vision").
The lines "Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night" from Blake's poem "Auguries of Innocence" are quoted by Jim Morrison in the song "End of the Night" from The Door's debut album.
The Fugs set several of Blake's songs, and performed a "Homage to William and Catherine Blake," celebrating their sexual freedom. Atomic Rooster used Blake's painting "Nebuchadnezzar" for the cover of their 1970 album, Death Walks Behind You.
Van Morrison mentions Blake in the song "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River" on his 1974 album, Veedon Fleece. Blake is also mentioned, along with T. S. Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, among others, in the lyrics of "Summertime in England," a song loosely based on Blake's poem, "And did those feet in ancient time" and from Morrison's 1980 album, Common One. The 1984 album, A Sense of Wonder, includes "Ancient of Days," possibly referencing Blake's famous painting. On the same album, the song "Let The Slave" incorporates Blake's 1797 poem, "The Price of Experience." Morrison also mentions Blake in his song "Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?" from his 1989 album, Avalon Sunset, and "Golden Autumn Day" from his 1999 album, Back on Top.
U2's The Joshua Tree album was originally intended to open with a track entitled "Beautiful Ghost," in which Bono recites "Introduction to Songs of Experience" over a sombre instrumental; the song was ultimately cut from the final album, but appeared seventeen years later as an unreleased and rare track in The Complete U2 set on iTunes. Daniel Amos performed the song William Blake on their album Vox Humana in 1984. Manchester group The Fall had a track on their 2000 album The Unutterable entitled "WB," a song about Blake's visions, taking several lines from his work. Singer Mark E. Smith had expressed his admiration for Blake on many occasions previously. The Fall also recorded a version of "Jerusalem" on their album I Am Kurious Oranj.
A number of musicians have identified Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience as being of special importance. Greg Brown released an album of selections from the Songs of Innocence and Experience (1986), and several Blake songs were included in Tangerine Dream's album Tyger (1987). The American progressive-rock band Mastermind released a song called "Tiger! Tiger!", which uses the poem "The Tyger" as lyrics, in their third album "Tragic Symphony" (1994). Finn Coren's two albums of "The Blake Project" sets his songs, as does Jah Wobble's album The Inspiration of William Blake. Loreena McKennitt used lines from the Poetical Sketches in her song Lullaby. On two separate albums, composer, conductor and musician David Axelrod interpreted Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Swedish experimental/industrial band The Protagonist has a song called "The Sick Rose" (based on the poem) on their album Songs of Experience.
British jazz pianist and composer Mike Westbrook began his work for the theatre with Adrian Mitchell's "Tyger", a celebration of Blake staged by the Royal National Theatre in 1971. This became a vehicle for Westbrook's Brass Band of the 70's and 80's and the album "The Westbrook Blake - Bright As Fire" followed on in 1980, essentially a jazz interpretation of Songs of Innocence and of Experience. A revised and expanded version of the work was re-recorded in 1997 and named "Glad Day".
Bruce Dickinson's solo album The Chemical Wedding draws inspiration from the works of Blake. In fact, many songs on it, such as "The Book of Thel," have the same titles as poems by Blake. The black metal/experimental music group Ulver released Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in 1998, setting large portions of the poem's text. The name of metal band The Human Abstract is taken from Blake's poem of the same name.
Enrique Bunbury from Spanish band Héroes del Silencio was influenced by Blake's work, with songs like "El Camino del Exceso (The Road of Excess)," "Los Placeres de la Pobreza (The Pleasures of Poverty)," "Deshacer el Mundo (Unmake the World)" and "La Chispa Adecuada (The Right Spark)". Il Trono dei Ricordi have released an album, setting passages from The Book of Urizen and Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Patti Smith was heavily influenced by Blake, referring to him in her song "My Blakean Year" on her album Trampin' and also reciting his poetry before some of her songs. It can be heard, for instance, on the Land compilation, where she recites "The Lamb" before breaking into the song "Boy Cried Wolf".
The Verve's lyricist Richard Ashcroft has written a couple of lyrics which echo poetry by Blake. "History" from the 1995 album A Northern Soul begins "I wandered lonely streets/Behind where the old Thames does flow/And in every face I meet", referencing Blake's "London". Similarly, each line of the second verse begins "In every...", mirroring the device used by Blake in the corresponding stanza of the same poem. The band's 2008 comeback single "Love Is Noise" is clearly influenced by the poet's "And did those feet in ancient time", commonly known as "Jerusalem," with its "Will those feet in modern times/Walk on soles that are made in China?" and allusion to "Bright prosaic malls" instead of "dark Satanic mills".
Coil performed a song called "Love's Secret Domain" that quotes Blake's "The Sick Rose", they also allude to Blake in "The Dreamer is Still Asleep" on Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 1. Thee Majesty, a later project of Genesis P-Orridge, performed a song called "Thee Little Black Boy" loosely based on Blake's poem "The Little Black Boy".
Singer/songwriter M. Ward references Blake's poem set "Nurse's Song" on his 2009 album Hold Time in the song "Blake's View." Ward also opens the same song with a nod to Blake's "Death's Door" art series commissioned by Robert Cromek as a graphical representation of Robert Blair's poem "The Grave."
Philadelphia indie rock band Milton and the Devils Party takes its name from Blake's comment in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that John Milton was "a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it." Singer-songwriter-bassist Daniel Robinson is a professor and scholar of Romantic poetry at Widener University.
The RuneScape character Bill Blakey, a musician and poet, is a William Blake homage.
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- Interview with William Blake Everett's daughter
- Script of Mean Streets
- Gerrlinger, C, "Fiery the Angels Fell: America, Regeneration and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner," Australasian Journal of American Studies
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- Screenshot of the tattoo
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- The Lied and Art Song Texts Page
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- On the compilation Looking For Europe
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