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. After Shakespeare, 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 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 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."
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.
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.
Comics and graphic novels
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 Coulthart.
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 (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. An American Indian called Nobody saves Blake's life, and actually thinks that the person is, in fact, 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. 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.
The image of V escaping the fire at Larkhill in The Wachowskis' 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 songwriters 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 1960s, 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"). Ginsberg created an album of Blake's works, released in 1970 as Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, tuned by Allen Ginsberg.
Loreena McKennitt used lines from the Poetical Sketches in her song Lullaby. Martha Redbone's 2012 album The Garden of Love - Songs of William Blake consists of twelve pieces of Blake's poetry.
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)".
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".
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- Card, Orson Scott (1987). Seventh Son. Tor. ISBN 9780812533057. "If one of your prophecies comes true, Bill Blake, then I'll believe it, but not until.", p. 93. "I was born in fifty-seven . . . .", p. 96. He opened his eyes and found his fingers resting among the Proverbs of Hell. . . . "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.", p. 92
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