In his song “Blake’s View,” singer-songwriter M. Ward boldly states, “Blake said it first.” Implicit in both that line and the title is that Ward has some grasp over exactly what Blake attempts to say, that Ward not only understand Blake, but can use that understanding to further his own art. Three of Blake’s pieces are directly referenced, and at least one piece indirectly. So how does M. Ward interpret Blake’s view, and how does he use that interpretation to enrich his own work?
Viewed in a vacuum, the song describes Ward’s view of the afterlife and immortality. He says, “Birth is just a chorus // And Death is just a verse,” implying that life flows in cycles, and that men are reborn infinitely. Furthermore, due to a soul’s eternity, he comforts the listener, arguing “‘Death is just a door’ // You’ll be reunited on the other side.” When placed in context of Blake’s work, almost nothing changes – Blake’s work does little to actively transform Ward’s original meaning. Rather, it enriches the rather sparse lyrics with additional imagery, deepening the experience of an astute listener, though not warping it in any way.
Ward begins the song crooning “Death is just a door // Blake said it first,” a reference to an engraving etched by Blake called “Death’s Door.” Part of a larger series, the etching was first commissioned in 1805, and depicts a wizened man entering a portal attached to a stone outcrop. Surmounting the outcrop sits a youth lithe and vital, facing opposite the man who bumbles into Death’s door. Initially, this single engraving seems only to have peripheral connection to the cycle of life referenced in Ward’s song. In fact, the etching itself appears somber, contrasting the vitality of youth with the slow decay of old-age. However, taking a step back, one realizes that the engraving was only one in a series, and that it leads to another: “The meeting of a Family in Heaven.” This piece depicts three pairs in embrace, flanked by angels. Only with the two etchings taken together can one glean the influence Blake exerted on Ward: Passing through Death’s Door allows the moribund to reunite with relatives already dead.
Furthermore, Ward goes on to argue that the end of one life does not signify the end of life itself. He depicts Birth as a chorus, as a refrain sung multiple times, pointing to his belief in an eternal soul and reincarnation. He also depicts Death as a verse, as a stanza numerous as the chorus, but also more varied in nature. These lines are immediately followed by an evocation of “the great song of spring // That the mockingbirds sing.” Both the season and bird motifs are drawn from Blake’s poem “Spring,” found in Songs of Innocence. The poem “Spring” is about rebirth, both physical and spiritual. Birds act as heralds of both a new day, and a new year. They chirp at dawn, and return at Spring’s commencement. Furthermore, they also act as metaphors for angels, a detail corroborated by the original artwork surrounding the poem, in which angels, resting on vines, litter the page. So in this case, by linking the relevant lines in M. Ward’s song to the poem “Spring,” and then linking that poem to its original artwork, the listener understand that the mockingbirds may also reference angels.
Likewise, when M. Ward croons “We come and we go // A-weeping and a-wailing // Our heads in the hands of the nurse…” one can trace those lines back to the poem(s), “Nurse’s Song.” Clearly, M. Ward references a nurse that looks over the children found in both versions of the poem. However, more opaque is whether that nurse is the one found in Songs of Innocence or Songs of experience. The fact that she is caring for the narrator would point to the kindly nurse found in Songs of Innocence rather than the nurse jaded and jealous in Songs of Experience. However, that the narrator is older and close to spiritual night when “the sun is gone down” (Nurse’s Song), would point to the version found in Songs of Experience. It is possible that M. Ward wants the listener to think of both, because both may appear in a single lifetime, tying into his idea of life’s uninterrupted cyclicality.
Together, the works of William Blake that M. Ward references in “Blake’s View” evoke the philosophy underlying Blake’s work, and thus support M. Ward’s own spiritual views. Laced into the song are ideas of rebirth, life-after-death, and reunion found in the afterlife, ideas both echoed and an echo of Blake’s work.