As I’ve confessed before, William Blake tends to wax a bit too metaphysical for me. I do appreciate their very visual nature. After all, who reads The Tyger without fantastic images filling their mind?
Even if it’s the images of others and not his own that come to mind first!
I think perhaps one of the Flemish floral still life paintings would suit this poem more than his own illustration.
I suppose they are big, enveloping pieces too large for a small poem, but the textures and fine details seem to fit it better.
Take his poem,
“The Sick Rose”
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
In the case of still life painting during the Northern Renaissance they might even have shared a certain metaphysical/metaphorical point of view.
Flowers in still life painting were popular because they were a way to show off detail, and also the wealth of the individual. Often the flowers were rare, a tulip bulb could cost more than a painting!
The most expensive bloom was normally placed at the top of the bouquet. In the painting to the right it is a Semper Augustus tulip, the most expensive bulb of its time. According to some records it was worth 100x the average working man’s yearly salary! Its unique pattern was caused by a particular form of mosaic virus, so the only way to get it was in offsets of the original bulb. It no longer exists.
Sometimes they would be collections of flowers from different continents, or that bloomed at different times of the year. An artist might use a reference book for the flowers and/or insects-something similar to what Maria Sibylla Merian would be creating a century or so later.
Besides being prestigious, they could also act as a subtle vanitas painting- after all, flowers very beautiful but don’t live very long!
On a tour the guide told us that in some of the paintings the flowers are slightly overblown and that the insects were symbols of the coming decay. So there was a hint of mortality about overindulgence tucked into some of the paintings.
The worm at the heart of the rose, if you will.