18 pages 36 minutes read

William Blake


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1789

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Summary and Study Guide


William Blake is among the earliest figures associated with the British Romantic movement. Born 1757, Blake is of an earlier generation than Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth or John Keats; however, his emphasis on nature, the body, and the power of human creativity places him firmly as one of the movement’s progenitors. Still, he is difficult to categorize. He worked as an engraver, and his visionary approach to both poetry and visual art resists classification.

Blake engraved and self-published most of his works, including 1794’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, as illustrated manuscripts that weave visual art and poetry into a singular work. Blake’s unique style, coupled with his eccentric views on Christian religion, make his works stand out. His later works are dense with idiosyncratic meanings and religious visions that can make them appear wholly disconnected with the more popular works of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, where “Night” appears. Blake’s concerns about death, nature, and the role of religion also manifest in his simpler works like “Night.”

Poet Biography

William Blake was born in Soho, London, on 28 November 1757. Blake was the third of seven children. Blake’s father emigrated from Ireland to work as a hosier in London. Though successful in his trade, Blake’s father was ostracized due to his nationality and religious beliefs. Because of these social factors, Blake’s family was closer to the urban poor than the average family of a skilled trade worker. Blake’s parents were likely Baptists and had separated themselves from the Church of England. The Bible was among Blake’s earliest influences. Around the age of four, Blake began having divine visions that would follow him for the rest of his life.

Blake’s mother educated him at home. At 10 years old, Blake attended a drawing school, and at 14 he began an apprenticeship under James Basire, an English engraver. At 21, Blake ended his apprenticeship and became a professional engraver. Engraving and painting were Blake’s primary sources of income throughout his life, and most of his poetic works were originally self-published as books of engravings. Among other works, Blake illustrated copies of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher. Illiterate at the time of their marriage, Blake taught Boucher how to read and to work as an engraver. Boucher helped Blake print many of his most famous works and added color to the engravings that accompany his poems.

Blake published his first book of poems, Poetical Sketches, in 1783. In 1789, he published Songs of Innocence, which would be expanded to Songs of Innocence and of Experience in 1794. Many of Blake’s best-known short poems come from these collections, including “Night,” and “The Tyger.” Blake’s later works grew concerned with detailing his religious beliefs and divine visions. The most significant of these include 1793’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which argues that good and evil are both necessary sides of God, and 1810’s Milton. Blake’s later works are well regarded but rarely read due to their difficulty.

Blake died in 1827 while working on engravings for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Blake was a respected craftsman at the time of his death but largely unrecognized as a serious artist. During his lifetime, Songs of Innocence and of Experience sold fewer than 30 copies. Blake has since come to be celebrated among England’s best poets and visual artists.

Poem Text

The sun descending in the west,

The evening star does shine;

The birds are silent in their nest,

And I must seek for mine.

The moon, like a flower,

In heaven’s high bower,

With silent delight

Sits and smiles on the night.

Farewell, green fields and happy groves,

Where flocks have took delight.

Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves

The feet of angels bright;

Unseen they pour blessing,

And joy without ceasing,

On each bud and blossom,

And each sleeping bosom.

They look in every thoughtless nest,

Where birds are covered warm;

They visit caves of every beast,

To keep them all from harm.

If they see any weeping

That should have been sleeping,

They pour sleep on their head,

And sit down by their bed.

When wolves and tigers howl for prey,

They pitying stand and weep;

Seeking to drive their thirst away,

And keep them from the sheep.

But if they rush dreadful,

The angels, most heedful,

Receive each mild spirit,

New worlds to inherit.

And there the lion’s ruddy eyes

Shall flow with tears of gold,

And pitying the tender cries,

And walking round the fold,

Saying, ‘Wrath, by His meekness,

And, by His health, sickness

Is driven away

From our immortal day.

‘And now beside thee, bleating lamb,

I can lie down and sleep;

Or think on Him who bore thy name,

Graze after thee and weep.

For, washed in life’s river,

My bright mane for ever

Shall shine like the gold

As I guard o’er the fold.’

Blake, William. “Night.” 1789. Tweetspeak.


In the opening stanza of Blake’s “Night,” the speaker describes the transition from day to night. The poem begins with “[t]he sun descending in the west” (Line 1), and both the birds and the poem’s speaker finding their way back to their “nest” (Line 3). The speaker describes the moon “like a flower / In heaven’s high bower” (Lines 5-6) as the celestial body “[s]its and smiles on the night” (Line 8).

The poem’s second stanza depicts darkness and sleep coming over the “green fields and happy grove” (Line 9). During the night, the “feet of angels bright” (Line 12) bless bring joy to the lambs, “each bud and blossom, / And each sleeping bosom” (Lines 15-16) that occupies the field. The angels also “look in every thoughtless nest” (Line 17) and “visit the caves of every beast, / to keep them all from harm” (Lines 19-20). If any creature is still awake, the angels “pour sleep on their head” (Line 23). The fourth stanza turns from the peaceful creatures of the second stanza to “wolves and tigers [that] howl for prey” (Line 25). The angels stand ready to “[r]eceive each mild spirit” (Line 31) that the predators might eat.

The fifth stanza focuses in from these predators onto a single lion, whose “ruddy eyes / Shall flow with tears of gold” (Lines 33-34). The lion says that wrath is “driven away / From our immortal day” (Lines 39-40) due to Christ’s meekness. With wrath removed, the lion lies down beside the “bleating lamb” (Line 41). The lion says he is now able to “sleep, / Or think on Him who bore [the lamb’s] name” (Lines 42-43). The poem ends with the lion stating that he will guard over the lamb’s enclosure forever.