“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.“
– William Blake, from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
All Doors fans recognize the epigram by English poet and mystic William Blake that inspired the band’s name, but few know the man or his art. Since Blake was so influential toward Jim Morrison’s thinking, and information about Blake isn’t widely known, we’ll take a look at this inspiration to The Doors.
Born on November 28, 1757, William Blake claimed from early childhood to have religious visions, the iconography of which he may have picked up from his parents’ beliefs and his reading of the Bible. One day, while walking in the countryside at age 8, he saw a tree filled with angels. When he told his parents he was almost beaten by his father for lying but fortunately his mother intervened. The visions were a lifelong companion and in later years Blake claimed to talk with deceased relatives and archangels.
Blake found an early affinity for art and poetry, drawing pictures of Greek antiquities from pictures his father bought the boy. Early examples of Blake’s poetry demonstrate a knowledge of Ben Jonson and Edmund Spenser. Instead of sending the boy to school, his parents enrolled him in drawing classes and allowed him to read whatever piqued his curiosity. As was the practice of the day, Blake was apprenticed at age 14, to an engraver. Here he learned the trade that would sustain him through life and provide a vehicle for the realization of his visions.
Blake was not in step with his times. His opinions and artistic aesthetic were at odds with those of his Enlightenment contemporaries and the public at large, and his poetry was never well known during his lifetime. Blake published his first volume of poetry in 1783, and throughout his career he found several patrons that supported him and his work. At age 31 Blake started using relief etching which he placed alongside his poems, a technique known as the Illuminated Manuscript. This is the medium Blake is best known for and his most striking work comes to us from this period, in which he produced “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” and “Jerusalem.”
Blake also had a close marriage to his wife Catherine. Catherine was illiterate when they married but Blake taught her to read and write, and even how to engrave, and she was known to help Blake in his later years. Blake died as mystically as he had lived his life. After working all day he drew a picture of his wife, told her he would be with her always, and died singing hymns of visions he was seeing.
Blake’s influence on Jim Morrison is obvious. Besides taking The Doors’ name from Blake’s quote, he also liked the Blake quote “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” and lived his life according to that philosophy, while Doors lyrics like “No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn” echo Blake’s aesthetics. Blake has also been an influence on our culture and writers of the last 50 years. Blake is credited with inspiring Allen Ginsberg (who claimed his own Blakean visions), Bob Dylan, and writers like Philip Jose Farmer in his “World of Tiers” trilogy. Blake’s drawings also come to us in popular culture, as his drawing the “Ancient of Days” is frequently referenced on TV and in films.
William Blake died on August 12, 1827, but his words have inspired for almost 200 years.
There’s a much more detailed biography of William Blake on Wikipedia.
Originally published August 12. 2011 and appears in “The Doors Examined.”