A Grain of Sand in Lambeth

Rarely did William Blake suffer from, or at any rate vent, any self-doubt. Either he was industrious with other people’s projects (during his twenty-year “sleep”) to the extent of temporarily forgetting his grand vision, or he was utterly convinced of the rightness of his artistic view of the world; or he was in brief, despairing transition between these two modes of existence. Such is the picture Peter Ackroyd has assembled from the legacy of his correspondence and personal papers.

There is a tantalising shred of evidence to the contrary, however. In the first drafts of America (according to The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake via Ackroyd), his writer’s block expressed itself in the following:

The stern Bard ceas’d, asham’d of his own song; enrag’d he swung

His harp aloft sounding, then dash’d its shining frame against

A ruin’d pillar in glittring fragments; silent he turn’d away,

And wander’d down among the vales of Kent in sick & drear lamentings

Would that we could all trace the paths of our clogged-up arteries of expression in such finely-expressed lines! But what’s interesting is that, work on America finally brought to a close, Blake erased this passage from the first copy printed, although it has been reconstructed since. So this powerful lament on the inability to write… it was as if it were never written. Blake had to retroactively prohibit its existence, in order to confirm the complete and mousikos nature of the work it impinged upon, heaven-sent though those four lines might have been.

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