The William Blake Blog

Heaven in a Wild Flower: Nick Drake and Willliam Blake
On the anniversary of his birth, it's worth reflecting on the affinity between Nick Drake and William Blake.
Safe in the womb
Of an everlasting night
You find the darkness can
Give the brightest light
- Nick Drake - Fruit Tree

On the anniversary of the birthday of Nick Drake (1948-1974), this is a short appreciation of how the singer and poet's work was shaped by his love of William Blake.

Drake notoriously did not find much of an audience for his work during his tragically short lifetime, but the connections between him and the Romantic artist and poet were recognised as a greater number of people began to discover him. In 1985, a compilation - Heaven in a Wild Flower - was released, its title taken from Blake's Auguries of Innocence. Because it did not include any of his posthumously released material - some of which has become extremely popular since - that particular compilation is no longer available, but the spirit of Blake continues to be evident in his work.

T. J. McGrath, in a piece written for Dirty Linen in 1992, was one of the first writers to explore how Blake influenced Drake, who was already making music tapes before he left Marlborough College in Wiltshire for Birmingham and then Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. While there, as a number of commentators have observed, Blake formed a significant part of his voracious reading, with McGrath noting: "Blake took refuge in his woodcuts[sic]; Nick concentrated on playing guitar."

While Drake's time at Cambridge seems to have been difficult for him, it was the period when he discovered English folk music, and Blake - along with Yeats and Henry Vaughan - played an important part in his lyrics. Arun Starkey observes that his final album, Pink Moon, was infused with the overarching themes of Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, made more poignant by the fact that he was increasingly isolating himself in his London flat.

Ian Malin points out that Drake's mother once said that her son believed Blake to be ‘the only real poet’. One of the most important things he took from Blake, was the ability to draw upon a profoundly mystical vision of the world expressed in simple, beautiful language, as in one of his most famous songs, "Northern Sky", which echoes Blake's invocation to "Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand".

I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons, knew the meaning of the sea
I never held emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree But now you're here
Brighten my northern sky
- Nick Drake - Fruit Tree