The Portable Blake | A Reading Group with Ken Knabb

Please join us for reading and discussion of William Blake's poetry. We will be gathering around the Grand Table in back of the bookstore every other Sunday from 4:30-7:00 p.m. for three more meetings of four (October 27, November 10 & 24), then we'll move on to the next works in our series.*

Participation is free, but donations of $10 or so per meeting are suggested to help support the bookstore, which provides us with a pleasant meeting space and complimentary wine, sandwiches, and cookies.

We are reading the Songs of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell along with selections from Blake's other poetry. We will be using The Portable Blake 9780140150261, edited by Alfred Kazin, but you are welcome to use any other edition you may already have.

The bookstore cannot obtain The Portable Blake at this time, but will carry a few copies of Selected Poems, edited by Bentley, and The Complete Poems, edited by Ostriker. Many copies of The Portable Blake are available at,, and You can also view the marvelous original editions designed, engraved, and colored by Blake himself at the Blake Archive.

Blake knew that his age was faced with a major crisis or climacteric of the interior life. He could diagnose the early symptoms of the world ill because he saw them as signs that man was being deprived of literally half his being. He is in fact concerned with the epic tragedy of mankind as it enters an epoch of depersonalization unequaled in history. . . .

Blake was not only right about the spiritual, intangible factors of the struggles of the interior life and the achievement of true integration of the personality. He was also right about the external factors — the evils of the new factory system, of forced pauperism, of wage slavery, of child labor, and of the elevation of covetousness from the sin of the Tenth Commandment to the Golden Rule of a society founded on the cash nexus. A generation before the birth of Marx, and before Hegel, he put his finger unerringly on the source of human self-alienation. . . .

Blake’s songs are distinguished by their uncanny lucidity. They are modeled on Shakespeare’s songs, and at first sight share their simplicity, but, rather like Shakespeare’s plays, on examination they reveal an ever-unfolding complexity of meaning.

An ear for the subtlest music of language and an eye for the ultimate meanings of minute particulars combine to make Blake one of the greatest of all lyric poets. But what this means is seeing plainly into the clear depths of the soul — hence the inexhaustibility of these simple poems." (Kenneth Rexroth)

For more information, please contact Ken Knabb --

*"Exploring the Classics" is an ongoing group, led by Ken Knabb and hosted by University Press Bookstore. During the past three years we read and discussed Montaigne's Essays, Cervantes's Don Quixote, Fielding's Tom Jones, and several other classic works from 1500-1800. We are now exploring some great novels and poems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including works by Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Marx, Blake, Whitman, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, D.H. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, and Doris Lessing. Following that, we will drop the exclusively European focus and embark on a journey through a wide range of earlier classics from all over the world.

Event date: 
Sunday, October 27, 2019 - 4:30pm to 7:00pm
Event address: 
2430 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94704

Those Halcyon Days

Even though the store takes a hiatus, it’s easy to imagine that long conversation amongst the great minds continuing around the Great Table, in our fancy, if not in Eternity, though we can agree to disagree about that.

How many can you identify?

Some are pretty obvious, others a little obscure. If educated outside the U.S. you might have an advantage in naming two or three. One makes for a fancy pose, but he’s actually a blockhead.

All have made significant contributions, even when shown demonstrably wrong. Nonetheless, we continue to argue with them because even when we argue with them, more often than not, we find them productively wrong.

We look forward to the time when you too can rejoin the conversation.

Front facade of University Press Books

From 1974, University Press Books has stoked the blaze of well over ten thousand minds on fire, carrying new scholarship published by the great university presses in the English-speaking world.

Since our founding, we've added quality fiction and creative non-fiction to our selection, without drfiting from our mission to showcase top new texts introduced by university presses.

Order from us. Visit us. Let well-wrought words churn and burn within.