Student Research Projects

The Book of Urizen: Blake’s Adaptation of Gnostic Myth to Confront His Fractured World

Student Kim Fahle
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department English
Course Independent Research: Blake’s Mythologies


When describing the poet William Blake, Henry Crabb Robinson, an acquaintance of Blake’s wrote, “Shall I call him Artist or Genius—or Mystic or Madman? Probably he is all” (Robinson 2). Blake is an incredibly complex writer who has received a lot of critical attention examining the influences on his works. Blake was a deeply religious man yet, while Blake considered himself a Christian, many of his religious ideas and beliefs were very unorthodox. Blake draws on many different religions and belief systems in his works. In The Book of Urizen, there appears to be a strong influence of Gnosticism on the religious system that is presented. Yet, the critical attention that has been paid to this poem has either dealt with only aspects of the Gnostic influence within the text or has ignored it all together. This project first examines the possibility of Blake having knowledge of this esoteric belief system. Though many primary Gnostic texts were not found until after Blake’s time, there is evidence that he encountered information about this religious sect through secondary sources. After looking at the plausibility of a Gnostic influence on Blake, this project seeks to draw together conclusions of other critics as well as present a few new ones that provide a coherent and complete picture of the Gnostic elements and connections found within the text.