Poetical Sketches, Published 1783, (E 420) "AN IMITATION OF SPEN[S]ER. Golden Apollo, that thro' heaven wide Scatter'st the rays of light, and truth's beams! In lucent words my darkling verses dight, And wash my earthy mind in thy clear streams, That wisdom may descend in fairy dreams: All while the jocund hours in thy train Scatter their fancies at thy poet's feet; And when thou yields to night thy wide domain, Let rays of truth enlight his sleeping brain. For brutish Pan in vain might thee assay With tinkling sounds to dash thy nervous verse, Sound without sense; yet in his rude affray, (For ignorance is Folly's leesing nurse, And love of Folly needs none other curse;) Midas the praise hath gain'd of lengthen'd eares, For which himself might deem him neer the worse To sit in council with his modern peers, And judge of tinkling rhimes, and elegances terse. And thou, Mercurius, that with winged brow Dost mount aloft into the yielding sky, And thro' Heav'n's halls thy airy flight dost throw, Entering with holy feet to where on high Jove weighs the counsel of futurity; Then, laden with eternal fate, dost go Down, like a falling star, from autumn sky, And o'er the surface of the silent deep dost fly. If thou arrivest at the sandy shore, Where nought but envious hissing adders dwell, Thy golden rod, thrown on the dusty floor, Can charm to harmony with potent spell; Such is sweet Eloquence, that does dispel Envy and Hate, that thirst for human gore: And cause in sweet society to dwell Vile savage minds that lurk in lonely cell. O Mercury, assist my lab'ring sense, That round the circle of the world wou'd fly! As the wing'd eagle scorns the tow'ry fence Of Alpine bills round his high aery, And searches thro' the corners of the sky, Sports in the clouds to hear the thunder's sound, And see the winged lightnings as they fly, Then, bosom'd in an amber cloud, around Plumes his wide wings, and seeks Sol's palace high. And thou, O warrior maid, invincible, Arm'd with the terrors of Almighty Jove! Pallas, Minerva, maiden terrible, Lov'st thou to walk the peaceful solemn grove, In solemn gloom of branches interwove? Or bear'st thy Egis o'er the burning field, Where, like the sea, the waves of battle move? Or have thy soft piteous eyes beheld The weary wanderer thro' the desert rove? Or does th' afflicted man thy heav'nly bosom move?"
Late in life Blake painted a large picture titled CHARACTERS FROM SPENSER'S "FAERIE QUEENE". The date of this picture is estimated to be 1825. Since it was sold by Blake's widow Catherine to the 3rd Earl of Egremont two years after Blake's death, it was not commissioned by a specific patron. The picture now belongs to the National Trust and is located at Petworth House in Sussex.
Scholars believe that Blake was commenting on Spenser's work and philosophy as well as illustrating specific events in Spenser's poetry. Damon provides details in A Blake Dictionary. Much more information is available in Blake & Spenser by Robert F. Gleckner.
Catherine was concerned for the care of the picture and gave these instructions: ‘Mr Blake had a great dislike to his pictures falling into the hands of the picture cleaners.’
To see more detail in the picture, select one of the four images and zoom to a specific area of the picture in the National Trust.