A few months ago the Blake Quarterly got its first subscriber from Turkey (at least in my memory). Ramazan Saral is pursuing a doctoral degree in the Department of English Language and Literature at Ege University in İzmir. His review of Vahiy Kitapları [Prophetic Works], trans. Kaan H. Ökten, will appear in our summer 2019 issue. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his love of Blake.
What sparked your interest in Blake and British romanticism?
I came across “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in Clive Cussler’s novel Iceberg. When I read the stanza starting with “God save thee, ancient Mariner” I was deeply affected. But it was a Turkish translation, so I tried to find the original version. I come from a little town, and I could not find English books easily. Luckily, there was an English poetry book in the library of my high school. And I began reading English poetry, but the Romantics had a certain appeal. My master’s thesis is on “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as well.
I had read Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” during my undergraduate years, but that was the extent of my knowledge on Blake. Thanks to my poetry instructor, I read “Auguries of Innocence,” The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and The Book of Urizen after I graduated. After reading these works I realized Blake studies to be an endless ocean and I have been reading and trying to understand Blake for some time.
You mentioned in previous correspondence that your doctoral dissertation is on Blake and mythopoeia. Can you tell me more?
Once I read The Book of Urizen, Blake’s universe intrigued me. I have always been interested in mythopoeia, thanks to Tolkien’s legendarium. Blake’s universe, I believe, has some answers I have been searching for my entire life. It was difficult to understand his symbolism and mythology at first, but once I read books and articles on him, reading Blake has become increasingly enjoyable. (S. Foster Damon’s Blake Dictionary is a great help in understanding Blake a little better.) In 2014 I presented a paper on The Book of Urizen and it was published in a book titled Mythmaking across Boundaries. It was like exploring a new universe and in order to understand Blake you need to “unlearn” lots of things. Therefore, my doctoral dissertation will focus on Blake’s mythopoeia. Right now I am working on my proposal, trying to write the first draft.
Can you talk a little about the reception of Blake in Turkey?
Blake is not very well known in Turkey. Even in the English departments, most of the classes only focus on “The Tyger” and “The Lamb,” sometimes on “The Chimney Sweeper.” There have been translations of Songs of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell but most of them are without the plates, only the transcriptions. Recently I have seen some different translations that include the plates as well. I checked the Turkish thesis and dissertation database and saw that there are no dissertations on Blake at all and only five or six master’s theses.
In art history classes I have heard that they talk about Blake as a painter and engraver, but I do not know the extent of it.
I am trying to teach Blake to my students and talk about him with my colleagues and friends, but they are usually not interested or are afraid of his complicated mythology.
Are you able to network with other Blake scholars through conferences or informally through social media?
I have only met one scholar, who presented a paper on The Book of Urizen five years ago, but I am not sure she studied Blake exclusively. As I mentioned before, there are no Blake scholars in Turkey to my knowledge, and I do not really have any contact with other Blake scholars. I try to share engravings, poems, and drawings by Blake regularly, but sometimes people comment that I talk about Blake a lot, so I get discouraged. But some of my students are interested in Blake, and I share my books and ideas with them.
Is the teaching that you do part of your degree requirement? To what extent are you able to design the syllabus?
Normally it is not a part of the degree, but I am glad to have been given this opportunity. I teach Introduction to Poetry and English Romantics, and I designed the syllabi of these courses to my heart’s content. In the Introduction to Poetry courses I teach Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (both “Chimney Sweeper”s, “The Little Black Boy,” “Introduction”s, both “Holy Thursday”s, etc.) as an introduction to his idea of contrary states. In English Romantics I move on to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The Book of Urizen as an introduction to his mythology.