Blake’s London: Iain Sinclair

What was William Blake’s relation with London? And how did this relation shape his poetic visions? In this small and specially-designed volume, Iain Sinclair takes the reader on a discursive journey through BLAKE’S LONDON showing how, in Blake’s vast and rich poetry, language and imagination conjoin to delineate a profound engagement with place. First delivered as a lecture at Swedenborg Hall on Friday 2nd Nov, 2007, this revised text is the perfect introduction to Blake’s singular experience of the city, his relation to Emanuel Swedenborg, and to a visionary tradition of poets from John Clare to Allen Ginsberg.

This volume details a route through London that explores Blake’s relationship to the city by drawing on Sinclair’s own experience.  It has been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, which noted that as Sinclair’s narrative wanders, like his route through London, he makes ‘nonsense more interesting than anyone else’.  The Camden New Journal admires the way in which ‘Sinclair focused on Blake’s London, and his sense of topography, both poetic and geographic, and how he used language to conjure up a sense of London at the time’.

Here is a short extract:

I had been working as a gardener in Limehouse, and I was cutting the grass of Hawksmoor churches, which were then dirty, grubby and spurned. Vagrants and drinking schools were camped out around the Portland stone recesses like medieval pilgrims or penitents seeking sanctuary and a dole of British sherry, the whole of Docklands, the Isle of Dogs, had failed. The zone was derelict. Thatcherite imperatives would not kick in for quite some time yet. Capital didn’t return to the river until the Heathrow bullion blaggers needed territory in which to invest. So what was the presence of the eastern city? Well, Blake seemed to suggest that it was a figure, a sleeping giant. He imagined a figure of inward, an inward being. This self-forged daemon belonged, I felt, to the ground of London … And for some reason the creation of buildings and structures on the east side of London seemed, prophetically, to suggest a new kind of writing and even a new kind of social, cultural, even biological, development.

Commentators at the time, writing about Blake’s Jerusalem itinerary, said ‘Why Highgate?’ And the reason John Adlard put forward was that Highgate was then on the Great North Road — a road which subsequently moved east and up Stoke Newington and out through Tottenham. But, originally, it came over Highgate Hill — it was the great entrance to the city, even though Blake himself says, repeatedly, that he is uncomfortable in this landscape. Highgate is also connected to various forms of belief in Druidic sites. There were books like Prehistoric London: Its Mounds and Circles, written by Elizabeth Gordon before the First War, that suggested there were triangulations of energy across London, there were paths between important loci on Parliament Hill (with a tumulus), the Penton Mound in Islington, and the Tot Hill in Westminster. A projected triangle enclosing so many of the ancient energy generators of London. And Blake seems to have prefigured a lot of that too, but in a higher register. Curiously enough, there’s this curvature, a swerving away: ‘Highgate thro Hackney & Holloway towards London / Till he came to old Stratford’. Well, this was the sticking point for people who wanted to discuss that journey: ‘old Stratford’, this was really peculiar. Adlard suggests, looking at texts of the time, that Blake actually meant ‘old Ford’, which was a point on the river Lea where Saxon and Viking England divided. A very important crossing point on the Lea and not further east to Stratford. 

But, uncannily, old Stratford is now the epicentre of everything, it is the new city, the virtual city growing up around the Olympic Park, the enclosed city with this huge blue fence around it. A city, symbolized by an Australian super-mall, which has taken itself out of the landscape. You could persuade yourself that Blake anticipates, or suggests the terminology for, future movements throwing up heretical temples, retail parks, structures that have to be confronted, discussed and debated. And destroyed. ‘An Abstract objecting power that Negatives every thing.’

Available as a smart little (limited edition) hardback at £5.95 from the Swedenborg Society bookshop or website. Alternatively you can buy the Kindle version at for only £4.58.

You can also

‘like’ Blake’s London on Facebook.


‘No one has ever written quite like Iain Sinclair. He will, without doubt,
prove the indelible diarist of our age — our post-punk Pepys’

‘Sinclair’s prose is vertiginous and polychromatic…a master of the literary collage’ – Peter Ackroyd, The Times

Iain Sinclair has lived in and written about London since 1969. A renowned essayist and writer of fiction, Iain’s early work consisted mostly of poetry which he published on his own small press, Albion Village Press. His novels include Downriver (winner of the James Tait Black Prize and the Encore Prize), Radon Daughters, Landor’s Tower and Dining on Stones (shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize). Non-fiction books, exploring the myth and matter of London, include Lights Out for the Territory, London Orbital, Hackney: My Rose Red Empire and most recently Ghostmilk: Calling Time on the Grand Project.

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