Born in London in 1757, William Blake soon showed evidence of his artistic talent. His father, a hosier, encouraged the boy's gifts, and Blake was apprenticed at 14 to the engraver James Basire, after which he began illustrating and printing his own works of poetry. First published in 1789, 'Songs of Innocence' was followed four years later by 'Songs of Experience', with a combined edition reaching the bookstalls in 1794. The two collections explore the na ve joys of childhood and the darker, more jaundiced view that life imposes as the infant grows to maturity. But Blake does not use this dichotomy to bemoan a sentimental loss of innocence; rather, he uses the poems to reveal the limitations of both views. Dark and evil forces do exist in the world and it is foolish to ignore them; but equally, joy and love pervade the Universe, and to deny their presence is equally undiscerning. In Blake's view, we need both to progress, a thesis that is explored in detail in his second work, 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'. More than 50 colour illustrations, taken from the originals of both works, are scattered throughout the text, in accordance with Blake's own belief that his poems and paintings form an integral whole. These are works of great depth and discrimination, that reveal further levels of understanding - and greater insight into the mysteries of human existence - with each successive reading.