"This essay is my way of befriending and comprehending Billy Blake, whom I greatly admire in absentia.
"Why do you admire him so?
"Because he told the truth, because he shoved an insolent leering soldier down the road and stuffed him through a doorway, because he saw angels and saints and talked openly about his visions. Because he published his work himself. Because he was a tender and difficult and solicitous friend. Because he took great pride in his engraving and worked endlessly on plates to make them perfect. Because when he knew he was going to die he lay in his bed singing softly. Because he smiled at the deft poetry of the message when his wife served him an empty plate at dinner to remind him that they were starving. Because he wasn't satisfied with extant mythology and so built a vast grand impenetrable one of his own. Because in all things he wrote he never mentioned his weight, which was ample, or his height, which was not. Because he single-handedly rescued the ampersand from oblivion. Because in the few drawings of him he is alert, intent, attentive. Because even though he claimed much of his work was dictated whole to him by angels and prophets, he edited heavily. Because he and his wife used to sit naked in their garden and recite passages from Paradise Lost. Because when he was asked to recite his poems at parties he got up and removed his coat and sang his lyrics aloud while dancing around the room, which is why he was subsequently not invited to parties anymore. Because he taught his wife, a farmer's daughter, to read. Because he rose first every morning and laid the fire and made tea for her. Because he was endlessly exuberant. Because once at a dinner party he suddenly said to the child next to him, 'May God make this world as beautiful to you as it has been to me,' a sentence she remembered the rest of her life. Because he held his opinions firmly. Because his wife said she never saw his hands still unless he was asleep. Because to walk with him 'was like walking on air and talking with the Prophet Isaiah,' said his young friend George Richmond. Because he took great care to leave no debt at his death. Because he wrote and then threw away 'six or seven epic poems as long as Homer, and twenty tragedies as long as Macbeth,' judging them not worthy of publication or engraving. Because in the ringing fury of his lines there is also great mercy. Because even when he was sick unto death he engraved a little business card for his old friend George Cumberland. Because he could not stop painting and died with his pencil in hand. Because he bought a new pencil two days before he died. Because the very last thing he drew was his wife's face.
"It is this last detail that catches my heart.”