UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Blake’s printing house in hell : metaphors of illuminated printing in the poetic works of William Blake Kobelka, Eugene John Dmitri


William Blake was an artist and a craftsman as well as a poet, and he literally made as well as wrote his books of poetry. It is easy to see that, as an artist, Blake was fundamentally concerned with the physical production of his books of poetry, since for him, the physical form of his works was as much a part of their meaning as the content of the verse. But this primarily artistic interest in the production of his illuminated books also finds expression in the literary aspect of his work. There it takes the form of a carefully veiled, yet surprisingly consistent and detailed metaphoric discussion of the actual stages of production by which he created his famous illuminated books. By looking first at the metaphors in their most mature, most fully-developed expression, this thesis attempts to accomplish two things. The first goal is to clearly identify the vocabulary, imagery, and rhetorical patterns which characterize Blake's handling of the metaphors. Once this is accomplished, the aim of the thesis is to look back into Blake's early poetry in an attempt to plot the early emergence and development of these metaphors, and then to look forward to his later work to trace the metaphors as they evolve in conjunction with his myth and with his technical experimentation. In the early work "The Tyger," Blake is clearly infusing his developing myth with the elements of his process of production, but at this early stage, Blake is not yet tapping the metaphoric potential available to him. It is in the course of writing The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Blake begins to make full use of the metaphors, and in the subsequent work of America, Europe, The Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los the metaphors of illuminated printing steadily increase in coherence, detail, and frequency. But before Blake ended his poetic career, the metaphors per se seemed to lose part of their interest for him and in the later poem Milton, the relative frequency with which they occur drops markedly. Nevertheless, the general patterns of Blake's process of book reproduction remain as important structural elements of the poem —a testament of the fact that Blake's physical techniques of production exerted a fundamental influence on his poetic vision.

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