Since its first publication in 1965, David V. Erdman’s edition of William Blake’s collected poems has been nearly universally acclaimed as the foremost available text of the poet’s work (for those academically inclined, it also ranks as an "Approved Edition" of the Center for Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association). Erdman is to be lauded as much for his staunch editorship as for his keen eye: in order to produce this edition, he used modern technology, including infrared and microphotography, to decipher the poet’s famously impenetrable scrawl. The book (clocking in at nearly one thousand pages) is also commendably navigable—though the poems themselves may be labyrinthine, scholar and student alike will have no trouble traversing either the poetry or the copious and erudite notes.
The occasion for this new edition is an inimitable foreword by esteemed critic Harold Bloom, who also provides lengthy commentary on the poems. These readings are endlessly enlightening and gratifyingly readable, as they seek to dispel the cult of mysticism that has sprung up around Blake—Bloom calls him an "apocalyptic humanist, who urges us never to forget that all deities reside within the human breast." This is a superb edition of an essential poet.
This book review originally appeared in American Poets.