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Blake on Peckham Rye, London

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Blake on Peckham Rye

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Map of Peckham Rye in London

william-blake~ London by William Blake 1793 ~

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appalls,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.

Peckham Rye was an important spot in the imaginative and creative development of William Blake. When he was eight, he claimed to have seen the Prophet Ezekiel under a bush, and he was probably ten years old when he had a vision of angels in a tree. His biographer, Alexander Gilchrist, told the story: 'sauntering along, the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every branch. Returned home he relates the incident, and only through his mother's intercession escapes a thrashing from his honest father, for telling a lie.' A month later, he had another vision of angels walking towards him through the rye.

These mental and spiritual experiences were of profound importance for Blake's later life as an engraver, artist and poet. He invented a new type of engraving after a dream in which his dead brother Robert explained it to him. His extraordinary paintings and engravings and his long poems, illustrated and offered for sale at exorbitant prices, found an analogue in his childhood experiences on the rye. Just as his parents disbelieved Blake's visions, the public distrusted his work. Robert Hunt one of the only critics to pay Blake any attention whatsoever, described his paintings as demonstrating 'the effects of insanity having lately spread into the hitherto sober region of Art'. Blake himself, he called 'an unfortunate lunatic.'

For his own part, Blake thought that cities imposed constraints on the imaginations of their citizens. He was worried about the corporate repossession of the capital and its consequences for ordinary Londoners, a thought he famously expressed in his poem, 'London'. The poem was published in 1794 as part of the Songs of Experience and speaks cynically about the 'chartered streets, through which the chartered Thames doth flow,' leading to an even more cynical indictment of its dehumanising affect on the people:

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

Today, behind the playground on Goose Green in East Dulwich (roughly 200 yards from the North-West corner of Peckham Rye) there is a mural dedicated to Blake's experience. Entitled "William Blake's Vision of Angels" it was commissioned in 1993 by the Dulwich Festival, and painted by the artist Stan Peskett, in a collaboration with ten local schools. In 1997 the mural was vandalized and a part of it stolen brick by brick. To date, funds have not been raised for its repair.

© David Thorley, 2007

Hotels near Peckham Rye

COMFORT INN VAUXHALL

Comfort Inn Vauxhall
The tourist class hotel, the Comfort Inn Vauxhall is located 4km west of Peckham Rye. This 3 star hotel is well located on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge for accessing Victoria. Just 2km north is the Eurostar terminal. The Executive Jacuzzi rooms have the added benefit of a 2 person double jacuzzi.
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