William Blake, 'Pity' circa 1795
William Blake
Pity circa 1795

Galloping grey horses cut across a deep azure blue scene, horizontal over a fair female figure. On the ground her body lies completely flat and as if entranced by a divine spirit she stares into the air above at the ‘sightless couriers’. Golden curls cascade neatly underneath her head, gently cushioning her upturned forlorn face.

In what is deemed to be the first large colour print produced by William Blake, the child and horse rider illustrate a union of Shakespeare’s two images of pity in Act I Scene VII of Macbeth. In a soliloquy Macbeth contemplates the pitiable response to his murder of Duncan:

And pity, like a naked newborn babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.

Weakness and vengeance, human fallibility and the supernatural all manifest in Macbeth’s thoughts and are matched in the illustration of Blake’s Pity. As World Poetry Day takes place on 21 March, this week let’s celebrate the power of language and poetic expression as exemplified in Blake’s unique harmony of image and text.


So wonderful! I think the painting contains a long and sensitive story. It brings all of us the deep imagination! :) Thanks so much, author! Kandinsky