9780691012919 / 0691012911

Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake


Publisher:Princeton University Press



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About the book:

Though it was written in the 1940s, Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry is arguably still the most comprehensive--and comprehensible--book on William Blake. Despite the bewildering complexity of much of the work of this 18th century "visionary" poet and painter, Blake remains perennially popular. And though Frye warns against assuming that any poet writes "with one eye on his own time and another confidently winking at ours," he insists nonetheless that Blake's poetic methods and ideas remain relevant, indeed revelatory. "What Blake demonstrates is the sanity of genius and the madness of the commonplace mind, and it is here that he has something to say to the 20th century, with its interest in the arts of neurosis and the politics of paranoia."

Frye illuminates in the course of the book's 12 chapters the philosophical, religious, and aesthetic dimensions of Blake's thought and work (excluding his visual art). This is complemented by a roughly chronological commentary on the poet's 50-year literary oeuvre--from early works like "All Religions Are One," and the deceptively simple "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience," to late encyclopedic epics like "Jerusalem." Though the coherence of Frye's account might seem a little forced to the (post)modern reader, his explanations and speculations provide invaluable critical insight while still leaving readers plenty of opportunity for independent discovery. Blending judiciously deployed erudition and an infectious passion for his subject, Frye insists that reading Blake on his own terms--which is precisely what Fearful Symmetry tries to do--"is only the beginning of a complete revolution in one's reading of all poetry." --Russell Prather

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