Proverbs of Hell

We’ve talked enough (or too much) about William Blake. It’s time for some of Blake’s own words.

If you’ve read other early posts from this Parlando project, you know William Blake was a childhood hero of mine. As a young person I was attracted to the romantic, mystic Blake, the man who insisted on seeing the world his own way. As an adult, I grew to more admire the persistent Blake, the writer, artist, and printmaker who learned and redeveloped all the techniques he needed to continuously publish his work. This piece features yet another Blake, the social and political radical of the late 18th century.

There are many ways we can see the once singular figure of William Blake in our modern world. I’ve already compared him to the independent “indi” musicians who simply ignored the conventional entertainment world’s structure and gatekeepers, making their own forms of music, making their own venues and recordings, without waiting for permission–a natural thought for me who looks to musical arts—but specifically, Blake was combining words and art, so perhaps he was the first indi comic book creator?

If you want to see how Blake himself presented the work in which the “Proverbs of Hell” appeared, with his own words, lettering, drawings, printing and hand coloring see here.

Social and political radical? As an Englishman, Blake wrote this in a world in which one of England’s chief colonies (the USA) and its greatest historical enemy (France) had both undergone revolutions—revolutions that had instituted democratic republics, something unheard of in an age of monarchy. Tom Paine himself, was part of Blake’s social circle. And Blake was raised in a dissenting religion, as a Swedenborgian, a system of beliefs that fundamentally questioned official religious doctrine. By the time he wrote the “Proverbs of Hell”, he had begun to question if Swedenborg, the religious rebel, had been rebellious enough.

The resulting work has been memorized as the proverbs they are, but lines from it have also appeared as graffiti, bumper stickers and t-shirts. I have heard that one proverb, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” is engraved in gold letters on a wall in Donald Trump’s penthouse library. Oh my! That would be a long post in itself.

The music for this piece has a basic rock band core: drums, bass, guitar and piano; but then I’ve added a little orchestration: bassoon, flute, and some strings. The orchestration may first sound like a repeating loop, but it’s not, each repetition changes subtly as the timing and relative volume of each part vary.

To hear this reading of Proverbs of Hell, use the gadget that should appear below.


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