From an early age William Blake showed a determination to make his mark in the contemporary scene, though it was not at first clear which field would claim his attention. He had some musical talent, and accompanied some of his early poems on the harp; he studied at the Royal Academy and his training was as an engraver. Had he lived a century later he might indeed have become an advocate of the ‘gesamtkunstwerke’ (‘total work of art’) as did Richard Wagner; but as it was, the possibility of combining the poetic and visual arts fascinated him particularly. In his time poetry found a ready audience, but the literary world in which he grew up produced very little in the way of new lyrical poetry – a fact which he lamented in fitting verse:
TO THE MUSES
Whether on Ida’s shady brow,
Or in the chambers of the East,
The chambers of the sun, that now
From antient melody have ceas’d;
Whether in Heav’n ye wander fair,
Or the green corners of the earth,
Or the blue regions of the air
Where the melodious winds have birth;
Whether on chrystal rocks ye rove,
Beneath the bosom of the sea,
Wand’ring in many a coral grove;
Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry!
How have you left the antient love
That bards of old enjoy’d in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move!
The sound is forc’d, the notes are few!