If Blake isn’t eccentric, then who is?

One of William Blake's "weird" illustrations

Over at the New Yorker Book Bench, there’s a piece called “Romance and Bedroom Fixtures”. Poet Marie Ponsot stopped by Columbia University’s “Ode to the Romantics” lecture Monday night to give her two cents. It sounds like it was a lovely evening of poetry, but the piece ends with this paragraph:

We’ll assume you’re at least loosely familiar with Keats (the Grecian urn, “Beauty is Truth…”), of whom F. Scott Fitzgerald stated: “For awhile after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.” But William Blake is perhaps not as well known. His “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” are certainly worth a look, but if you’re not in the mood for quatrains, check out “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”—even if you don’t read a line. Blake illustrated the lengthy work himself, and the images run the gamut from bizarrely captivating to just plain weird (see above). As Ponsot said, Blake may not have been an eccentric, “but he certainly behaved eccentrically.” After learning his approach to reading John Milton, I believe she’s correct.

I have to remind myself that it’s the new Yorker. So, of course, Blake’s images are “weird.” The sentence that follows doesn’t make any sense to me. How can someone say Blake was not eccentric? If he’s not considered eccentric, then who is? The man had visions! He claimed to see angels sitting up in the trees from a very young age. If that’s not eccentric, then I don’t know what is. Am I nitpicking here? It just strikes me as odd to call his work “weird,” and then in the next sentence say that he was not eccentric.

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~ by Valerie Palmer on February 11, 2010.

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