The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic and Critical

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The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical
The Works of William Blake Poetic Symbolic and Critical Jan 1893.jpg
AuthorEdwin John Ellis, William Butler Yeats
GenreBiography, Literary criticism
PublishedBernard Quaritch
Publication date
27 January 1893

The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic and Critical, edited with lithographs of the illustrated prophetic books, and a memoir and interpretation by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats, is a three-volume commentary book about the English poet, painter and printmaker William Blake.

Written through a dual collaboration between the poets Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats and published by Bernard Quaritch in 1893, this work was the first comprehensive attempt to interpret Blake's œuvre, by placing its importance on his "prophetic books", in contrast to their predecessors's interpretative approach, who edited other critical works about Blake, such as Algernon Charles Swinburne and William Michael Rossetti, to name a few. Also, the work was the first collected edition of the majority of Blake's poetry, with an erudite commentary, despite its erroneous and misleading traits, like the memoir.[1] As one of the significant nineteenth-century developments in the dissemination of Blake's poetry, this book also made an ambitious attempt to interpret the poet's vatic approach to the making of literature. Today, this classic of 1893 is still illuminating for the lifetime influence it had on one of its editors, W. B. Yeats, who became perhaps the twentieth century's greatest poet in English and, like Blake, a visionary one, at that.[2]

From 1889 to 1893 Yeats was involved with Edwin Ellis, a minor painter and poet, in a three-volume edition of Blake's works, with a memoir and interpretation of the symbolism, which was an elaborated effort to define every aspect of these symbols. Yeats was satisfied to find out that Blake's artistical and poetical ideas harmonized with those of the theosophists and the students and members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, for now he could use occult materials and claim the authority of a great poet for such beliefs and inspirations, in order to cultivate and imbue them into his own poetry. Blake, in short, bore, through his poetical and spiritual aspirations, amazing parallels to those of Yeats. Here was a sublime justifying precedent. Also, this set contains the first reproduced illustrations of Blake's Prophetic Books and is the first collection to publish Blake's Vala, or The Four Zoas. Yeats marked down William Blake as a master early on, and with Edwin Ellis produced a large-scale commentary on Blake's prophetic writings in 1893. While often erratic and idiosyncratic, it helped establish the importance of Blake's esoteric verse.[3]


  1. ^ Whitson, Roger; Whittaker, Jason (2012). William Blake and the Digital Humanities Collaboration, Participation, and Social Media, 1st Edition. Routledge. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-04156-56-184.
  2. ^ "Ellis, Edwin and Yeats, W. B., "The Works of William Blake" (2014). Bibliographic Studies. 8". Clemson University Digital Press. 2014.
  3. ^ Ellmann, Richard (2016). Yeats, The Man And The Masks. Pickle Partners Publishing. p. 98. ISBN 178-62583-23.

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