This frontispiece by Wale exemplifies many of the discernible themes in Blake’s Songs of Experience. Blake begins his Songs with the voice of the Bard–a voice that serves as a seeming contrary to that of the piper, the speaker in Songs of Innocence. A bard, though more generally defined as a reciting poet, also has more traditional roots in the Scottish Gaelic tradition that was romanticized by Sir Walter Scott. This association immediately called to mind Wale’s frontispiece and, when considered more closely, even more similarities arose.

This engraving marked a dual alteration in the literary and authorial culture during the mid-eighteenth century. Firstly, it symbolized the necessary transition from aural to written work. Without this transition, the record of poetry from that time would have been lost. By segueing from mere song to engraving, the work of poets was enabled to endure, emphatically emphasized and legitimatized by the Latin phrase “durat opus vatum.” Secondly, it suggests the re-imagination of poetry as the ballad form and themes of chivalric romance were recovered and remade in original forms.

As Blake’s work “The Tyger” suggests, Blake valorized natural, organic elements by referencing “distant deeps, skies….forests of the night.” In a self-referential fashion, Blake reveals the paradox of utilizing the Poetic Genius to conjure images and poetic stanzas while constricting them to a fixed frame through the mechanized process of engraving. Such a paradox is visually and metaphorically manifested in his engraving of a tiger that takes on the appearance of a docile, domestic feline. Wale’s frontispiece vignette similarly manifests contraries and paradoxes with its traditional Gaelic images coalesced with Gothic iconography, classical components, and allusions to the Enlightenment period. The harp, both a classical and Gaelic image, seems to be surrendering to a new, budding tradition, as symbolized by the growing tree. Coupled together, these images serve as a metaphor for the transition from the aural tradition of song. The Gothic arches are a testament to Romantic culture as is the glorification of nature espoused by the upright, central tree. The Latin phrase represents intellect and the act of logically translating it to an understood language recalls the Enlightment’s emphasis on reasoning. (This component of the frontispiece would have been derided by Blake as a product of Urizen and institutionalization.) Thus, the work of Blake and Wale can be deemed “sister works” questioning the ability of an artist to truly express his Poetic Genius.

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