1. The Digital Text, the Online Concordance, and Annotations 
2. Visual and Audio Supplements
3. Hypertext and Textual Orderings
4. Pedagogy

The Blake Digital Text Project 
Nelson Hilton, University of Georgia  

Begun over three years ago, the Blake Digital Text Project (www.english.uga.edu/wblake) offers the text of The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, an online dynamic concordance to that text, and a continually expanding hypertext edition of the Romantic poet and artist's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which he first published in 1794. In the hypertext multimedia environment of the Web, students are able to relate words, their sound, the author's illustrations, and multiple textual orderings for an enriched experience of Blake's work.

About the author... 

1. The Digital Text, the Online Concordance, and Annotations 
The central concern of the Blake Digital Text Project is to make available the text of Blake's writing in a scholarly and comprehensive fashion. To this end, the Project was inestimably fortunate to obtain the permission of David V. Erdman, as the copyright holder, to use his standard, complete edition (an edition approved by the Center of Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association). This text has now been digitized and proofread several times and is freely available at the site. As an electronically archived text, the edition can now be augmented with useful annotations and collateral texts. 

The electronic text offers links from individual poems to detailed bibliographies and to annotations and interpretations for each stanza.  We can see this in "The Tyger" (in Songs of Experience), a poem which a 1992 analysis of over 400 literary anthologies reports as the most widely anthologized poem in the language (Harmon, 1077). Clicking on any stanza will open its annotations.  

An important part of Blake's writing includes his own vigorous and provocative annotations which he made in reading the works of others.  In fixed, hard copy editions of Blake's work, it is difficult to provide enough of the collateral material to make Blake's comments fully understandable to the reader.  While the Erdman edition attempts to include enough context to situate each particular comment, the excerpts are perforce limited and local. The plan of the Project is to provide full text and collateral material for the relevant works so that the reader can branch from an annotation to the larger context. Adding material relevant to Blake's life and surroundings is another future goal of the Project.




The Blake Digital Text Project Contents.

The availability of Blake's text in electronic form enables another enhancement to the text, an online searchable concordance. The one previous concordance to Blake reproduces computer generated output of more than thirty years ago. That effort lists only words, and not all words at that, as it omits those which occur very frequently and supplies only the whole line in which the word occurs, regardless of the word's position in the line. The Project's Concordance offers greatly enhanced search capabilities, including search for strings as well as words, wild cards, optional case sensitivity, and links to surrounding context. Still under development are KWIC-alignment of search results and Boolean searching. The digitizing of the Erdman text has also made possible its rearrangement so that concordance results are returned in a roughly chronological sequence. 

For an artist who argues that his "Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place" (Jerusalem pl. 3), the ability to cross-reference instantly Blake's entire oeuvre can open new insights. We begin to see that verbal artists think not just in words, but with them through their associated links. For Blake, who etched his own words, we will have in time the ability to cross-reference his various material renderings or calligraphy of particular words and explore ways in which he toys even with single letters to play with signification (to make worship, for instance, read warship in a context which supports either meaning [Jerusalem, pl. 21]).  The web environment facilitates exploration of these relationships and possibilities in meaning.


The Concordance.


Under development: KWIC-alignment of search results and Boolean searching.

2. Visual and Audio Supplements
Presentation of Blake's work on the Web can enrich our appreciation of its visual and aural dimensions as well.  Consider, for example, the poem "The Tyger" and Blake's corresponding illustration. The mysterious sublimity of the text of this poem is generally recognized, but Blake's illustration has often been felt to be inadequate. Wellek and Warren, for instance, marvel that "[a] grotesque little animal is supposed to illustrate 'Tiger! [sic] Tiger! [sic] Burning bright'" (117). Yet remembering that Blake thought of himself as a graphic artist pre-eminently, and considering the easy accessibility of Blake's designs, perhaps we should alter our focus.  Perhaps we should be wondering, instead, how an almost grandiloquent series of questions is supposed to illustrate an evidently bemused "tyger." Here we see that when we widen the context beyond strictly verbal information, we come to a fresh perspective on the multi-media artist's 'framing'. 

The Project's electronic edition also makes possible the incorporation of audio into our experience of Songs, a capability appropriate for the work of an artist who composed his own melodies and whose work has frequently been set to music. From a pedagogical point of view, the musical interpretations are desirable for the ease with which they make obvious almost instantly the reality of different yet convincing interpretations.  The musical interpretations also illustrate dramatically that reading itself is as much a matter of effective performance as the determination of some final truth.

As with "The Lamb," or "The Tyger" the presence of audio is signaled by the image of the piper in the upper right; clicking here opens a list of versions available as streaming audio. The "i-icons" open information concerning the source of the material (which has generously been made freely available by the artists). The growing collection of audio interpretations is promising because these interpretations allow for new comparisons and readings of the poems and because they prompt renewed individual or group engagement with the text.

 "The Lamb"

 "The Tyger"


3. Hypertext and Textual Orderings  
Blake's anticipation of hypertextuality appears in his various experiments in bookmaking. His best known work for instance, Songs of Innocence and of Experience -- which he wrote, illustrated, etched, printed, and published -- exists in two dozen copies whose 54 poems and designs are ordered in widely varying sequences. Indeed, some poems which first appeared in the 1789 Songs of Innocence move to Songs of Experience upon its publication five years later and then return back to Innocence in still later versions.  

The different sequences of poems with their radically different juxtapositions can create very different readings. Before the advent of hypertext, appreciation of this intrinsic aspect of Songs was hampered by the usual decision of editors to follow a particular order which Blake favored very late in his life for the last six copies of his work. The limitation of this practice is evident when one figures that this order represents less than fifteen percent of the total number of copies of Innocence. The very few printed editions which supply information on alternative sequences do so in a cryptic fashion too time-consuming for most readers to decode and apply.   

The Songs hypertext obviates this difficulty by making the various sequence-links from a particular poem readily visible and instantly accessible. Arrows in upper corners of frames on either side of a particular poem toggle a list of links to the poems which precede or follow according to their respective copies. Consider, for instance, "The Lamb" in Songs of Innocence and its right-hand frame. Clicking on the arrow [>] in the upper corner opens a list of all the poems which follow on this in different copies. Copies of Songs of Innocence are identified using the lowercase letters a through u, copies of Songs of Innocence and of Experience are referenced in UPPERCASE A through AA, with the exception of the late, similarly sequenced copies (UWXYZAA) which are identified collectively as @. For specific information regarding these various copies, the viewer should consult the descriptions of G. E. Bentley, Jr. 

In the case of "The Lamb," one can see that while it is in fact followed most often by "The Little Black Boy" (in the conventionally accepted order), there are many other possibilities as well.  In fact, it is followed more often by "The Blossom" in Songs of Innocence (copies identified in lowercase). Considering "The Lamb" and its left-hand frame, we may click on the arrow [<] to see a list of poems which precede it in various copies and note that "The Lamb" and "The Blossom" are linked together in nearly two-thirds of the copies of Songs of Innocence.


These considerations are not entirely pedantic. The "Introduction" to Innocence lays out a concern with individual and cultural progression from unarticulated sound to words to writing which builds on the preceding title page's depiction of the "scene of instruction." The poem which most often follows the "Introduction," "The Shepherd," could also be thought of as part of the front matter or introductory sequence if it is seen to serve as a veiled condemnation of the "lean and flashy songs" of his age (as in Blake's earlier "To the Muses"). Reading the design together with the text, we may well wonder if the saccharine "sweet lot" which delight the sheep herd is dismissed by the truly inspired guide as "How sweet"!

 The "Introduction " to Innocence

 "The Shepherd"

 "To t he Muses"

These plates might be seen as serving to introduce a collection which depicts a series of stages or vignettes in the coming-to-consciousness of language / the symbolic order / art.  However, if we accept the conventional ordering of the poems, our interpretation is thrown off by the position of the poem "Infant Joy"  (which in the usual order comes third from the end). "Infant Joy" depicts ground zero of language instruction as the mother speaks both parts of her dialogue with her two-day-old (i.e., unbaptized, so unnamed) infant (etymologically in-fans, "not speaking").  We can reconcile this discrepancy by considering an alternative ordering of the poems.  When we consider all the sequences leading from "The Shepherd," we find that "Infant Joy" does occupy our posited opening position just as often (eleven times) as it does the terminal one. 
The point is not to argue that one sequence is better than another. However, comparing possible orderings is illuminating to a student's understanding of Blake's work, and one ordering may be pedagogically more useful than another.   



 "Infant Joy "

4. Pedagogy 
The Project's principal use in my own classes thus far has been the creation and development of the Songs hypertext. Over the past three years, students in three small graduate classes have focused some of their energies on the preparation of bibliographies and annotations. This is, to be sure, a specialized use--though one which I hope may be expanded by providing a means to accept additional annotations from other scholars or classes who may have something to add. The contributors' file ensures that all contributions are identified and linked to the author's name and, if desired, web address. Already the work of reconsidering existing annotation has proved a fruitful way to open dialogue with a text. With a critical mass of commentary and secondary material now almost in place, it is possible to contemplate wider uses. 

As it stands, the Project offers a portal to Blake's visionary world via its Web-based presentation.  In this environment, multidimensional features of Blake's endeavor become accessible, aspects which could before be appreciated only through great effort with disparate resources. Perhaps the crucial lesson of all the earlier effort to study the relation of text to design, to imagine various musical interpretations, to consider the effect of different sequences has been the realization, at last, of the central role that the reader plays in the construction of Blake's meaning. Our search of texts for some definitive answer (etymologically, what one "swears" in reply) ends with the discovery of our own response-ability. Such insight is too much needed to be shelved away in libraries. 

Blake Digital Text Project:  http://www.english.uga.edu/wblake 

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 The Contributors' File

IMEJ multimedia team member assigned to this paper Daniel Pfeifer