And sixty-four thousand Genii, guard the Eastern Gate:
And sixty-four thousand Gnomes, guard the Northern Gate
And sixty-four thousand Nymphs, guard the Western Gate:
And sixty-four thousand Fairies, guard the Southern Gate:
– from Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion
Poet and walking artist Niall McDevitt in conjunction with New River Press has announced ‘A Month of Blake Walks’ – from 3 November to 1 December – to celebrate the renewed fascination with the poet-painter who is currently the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Britain.
The walking lectures will enable Blake enthusiasts and even experts to immerse themselves in the psychogeographocal landscape of one of England’s most singular and astonishing geniuses. The five-walk series will be as in-depth as a module at a top university, but affordable to anyone.
McDevitt, who studied English Literature at University College Dublin and has published three full collections of uncompromisingly countercultural poetry, is one of many contemporary artists in various mediums who identify as Blakeans. His first published poem ‘Off-Duty’ was part of a Poems on the Buses / Greenpeace series called ‘London – The Living City’. When the laminated poems were returned to their authors, the poets were taken by red bus on a mystery tour from the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden to St James’ Church in Piccadilly where William Blake had been baptised in 1757. The poets recited their poems at the beautiful marble baptismal font designed by Grinling Gibbons. Thus began McDevitt’s 20-year exploration of William Blake sites in the capital, and of the unique ‘Spiritual Fourfold’ philosophy woven into the poet-artist’s Illuminated Books.
McDevitt’s walks have been featured on BBC London, Radio 4’s The Poet of Albion, BBC 2’s television documentary series My Life in Verse, and have been favourably reviewed in International Times, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, The Idler and others.
Central: William Blake in W1
Sunday 3 Nov meeting at the junction of Oxford Street and South Molton Street. 1pm-3.30pm. £10
This walk takes us through much of the London timeline of William Blake, including the site of his birth as well as the one surviving Georgian townhouse where Blake actually lived.
McDevitt identifies – street by street – the places where Blake wrote Songs of Innocence, the C of E church where his non-conformist parents were forced to marry, and the Leicester Square scene of the honeymoon with his illiterate but beautiful wife Catherine. Blake reappears and disappears in the coffee shops, beauticians and bookies of today.
‘I write in South Molton Street what I both see and hear’.
East: A William Blake /Wat Tyler Walk
Sun 10 Nov meeting at the main entrance to the Savoy Hotel, off Strand. 1pm – 3.30pm. £10
This walk begins at the site of Blake’s much mythologised death in the disappeared street of Fountain Row and finishes at the site of Blake’s burial in the dissenters’ graveyard at Bunhill Fields.
En route it passes through historic sites associated with the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and the Gordon Riots of 1780, the latter of which was the major popular insurgency of Blake’s lifetime.
Though Blake himself was caught up in the Gordon Riots more by accident than design, he was sympathetic to the idea of popular revolt and later drew a portrait of Wat Tyler as one of his ‘Visionary Heads’ series circa 1818.
‘Then Old Nobodaddy aloft / Farted and belched and coughed / And said I love hanging and drawing and quartering / Every bit as well as war and slaughtering’
South: A William Blake / Arthur Rimbaud Walk
Sun 17 Nov meeting at the southern side of Blackfriars Bridge. 1pm – 3.30pm. £10
This walk brilliantly combines an exploration of Arthur Rimbaud’s Waterloo alongside William Blake’s Lambeth, passing through the fragments of Georgian and Victorian London that still remain to bear witness.
Rimbaud lived in Waterloo in 1874, while Blake had been a longterm resident of North Lambeth from 1790-1800. Though it’s not known if Rimbaud had read or even heard of Blake, McDevitt offers a unique and plausible account of how he might easily have done so – as well as masterfully comparing Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell as apocalyptic prose poems.
‘As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity…’
North: William Blake and the Visionary Poets of Hampstead
Sun 24 Nov meeting at Hampstead tube station. 1pm – 3.30pm. £10
Though William Bake never lived in Hampstead, he had a lifelong association with the area and was even offered a rent free home there in his final years, which he agonisedly turned down.
McDevitt traces the exemplary friendship between Blake and his enlightened patron John Linnell, as well as discussing Blake in a pantheon of great mystical poets all of whom passed though Hampstead during the romantic and modernist eras.
This eco-immersive walk will finish with a stroll across the heath to find one of the least known but most intellectually historic homes in London, Wyldes Farm in North End.
‘Because I was happy upon the heath, / And smiled among the winter’s snow, / They clothed me in the clothes of death, / And taught me to sing the notes of woe.’
West: Jerusalem’s Pillars
Sun 1 Dec meeting under Marble Arch itself. 1pm-4pm.
As well as exploring the sites where Blake lived, worked and studied, the series also explores site that Blake mythologised in his poetry and art.
The single most important of those sites to the mature Blake was Tyburn, site of public executions from 1196-1783.
McDevitt also locates the fascinating site of his wife Catherine Blake’s widowhood and tells the horrifying story of what happened to Blake’s manuscripts and copperplates after her death.
The walk culminates at the bardic site of Primrose Hill with its wonderful monument to Blake’s conversation with ‘the Spiritual Sun’. En route McDevitt will try to pinpoint the visionary site of ‘Jerusalem’s pillars’, tracing it to a childhood memory of visiting The Jews Harp Tavern.
THE FIELDS from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,
Were builded over with pillars of gold;
And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.
Special concessionary rate of all five walks for the price of three: £30.
Urizen Luvah Tharmas Urthona
Reason Emotion Sensation Energy
South East West North
Zenith Centre Circumference Nadir
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