This volume contains every page of Blake's 20 or so illuminated books, reproduced in facsimile. It features his great prophetic poems, for example, "Jersualem" and "Songs of Innocence and of Experience".
There has never been an edition of Blake's illuminated books so handsome, its pages filled with images to pore over in utter absorption. David Erdmann's The Illuminated Blake is still in print, and very useful, but the reproductions in that edition are all black and white, where this is in glorious Technicolor. One thing this edition allows the reader to do is register the different scales of Blake's various books--to see, for instance, just how tiny are the pages of the Songs of Innocence and Experience, such that you can completely cover them with your hand, compared with the coffee-table-sized later works. This Thames and Hudson edition of The Complete Illuminated Books is large format, A4 size, which makes for a spacious white border around the smaller images, but allows the larger books to be shown off in all their glory. And glorious they are; a unique, extraordinary sequence of interwoven visual and textual compositions; Blake's distinctively muscular figures (looking, it must be said, oddly modern, as if they have all just stepped out of the gym) sprawl and bound between blocks and columns of printed words. One of the most striking things is the disjunction between words and images at the basic level of legibility. The pictures are direct, vibrant and lucid; visually extremely expressive. Of the colour images, all of them are beautiful, psychedelically hued compositions making use of energetic diagonals and spirals in their composition. Blake's words, on the other hand, are often extremely difficult to read; particularly in the later "prophetic" books. Page after page is filled with minute handwriting in sepia-orange or grey. Its not that Blake's handwriting is unclear, but rather that the sheer bulk of text baffles the eye, copied so neatly onto the marginless block of the page with an obsessive, detailed miniaturised aesthetic. The editors, recognising this, reprint the words in type at the back of the book. But above all this edition drives home the point that Blake cannot be regarded separately as poet or visual artist; these two elements are always fused and co-existing. This wonderful, beautiful book makes that point impressively. --Adam Roberts
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