This spring, on the final afternoon of a sojourn in England, I wandered the banks of the Thames, coming at last to the Tate Britain, home to one of the largest collections of William Blake’s art. Was it irony or grace to find his work there, in the heart of the city whose sins and afflictions were so grievous in Blake’s time? Gone now are the infamous “dark satanic mills” of England’s early industrialization; gone (or at least hidden from sight) are the “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” Prosperity has largely replaced poverty, and the streets no longer feel “charter’d”—controlled repressively by the English crown.
After two weeks of rain I had happened upon that rare English joy: a sun-washed afternoon—a magic time for strolling and browsing, for hopping on and off red buses more or less at random, for happily spending all eight kinds of coins that the Brits carry about in their pockets. On such a day it would have been a shame to go indoors were it not for the promise of great art, and the inspiring assurance one receives as a gift from the old masters. [Read more…]