Wednesday, March 7, 2018

345. The 2018 Alphabet: S

S is for Samson.
Samson, the strongest of the children of men,
I sing; how he was foiled by woman's arts,
By a false wife brought to the gates of death.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'S' for William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)

For the two Vale Press books with poems by William Blake, Charles Ricketts designed some wonderful initial letters. Three of those appeared in The Book of Thel (1897) - initials H, P and T - and four initials were especially designed for the Poetical Sketches (1899): O, P, S and T. They testify of Ricketts's admiration for Blake's works.

Charles Ricketts, opening pages in William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)
The initials 'O' and 'P' were drawn for the opening pages. The other two illustrate one poem each. The 'S' is a woodcut that runs over 19 lines of text, measuring 89x43 mm. It is one of the larger initials that Ricketts designed. Three or four leaves form the curves of the letter S. The figure is not that of Samson, nor of the woman that brings him 'to the gates of death' (as Blake writes). It is the white-robed Angel:

O, white-robed Angel, guide my timorous hand to write as on a lofty rock with iron pens the words of truth, that all who pass may read.

The poetical sketches were presented in prose, however, the Vale Press edition has arranged them as poems.

The Angel is accompanied by the figure of a dove holding a palm-branch.

Charles Ricketts, page lxxxiii in William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)