William Blake’s world-view appears to be quite unique, not in every aspect, but for the most part. Much has been written about his work, and many connections have been drawn to other sources – Neoplatonism, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Milton, among others. Blake typically renders new ideas from traditional sources, and the resemblance is reduced. Then there are those he opposed, often quite strongly, such as Locke, Bacon, Newton, and Joshua Reynolds, who indirectly did their part to form his ideas. Yet Blake claims much of his work to come from a higher source, as though divinely inspired, such as in his writing about his magnum opus, Jerusalem:
I have written this Poem from immediate Dictation twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time without Premeditation & even against my Will. the Time it has taken in writing was thus renderd Non Existent. & an immense Poem Exists which seems to be the Labour of a long Life all producd without Labour or Study.
– William Blake in a letter to Thomas Butts, 25 April 18031
Does one call this poetic inspiration, automatic writing, or perhaps even divine channeling? The answer to this really depends what one means by these terms. I won’t go into this topic here, but instead return to my opening statement on the uniqueness of Blake’s world-view, and outline an aspect of that.
Four States of Vision
Many times Blake writes of four states of vision in describing his cosmo-psychology. The four states of Blake’s system are both states of human experience and worlds in themselves.
The highest state is that of fourfold vision, which is synonymous with the complete awareness of Eternity and Infinity. This is why it is the highest state. Fourfold vision is possible, Blake writes throughout his works, through the complete integration of the human being in Divine Imagination, which is the true human nature. Such a human is limited only by the limits they consciously apply to their own experiences. This is the creativity of the artist par excellence, with the universe and self as limitless canvas. Blake calls this state Eden.
Yet as most of us experience, we are not in this state. The capacity required for such a state is great, and most of us certainly fall short of this on many levels: emotionally, in our ideas of the world, in terms of character, and in our capacity to withstand the energy of sublime experiences. Blake declares that as humans we are closed up in narrowness, not living our full potential. This reduction is described through three progressively less-complete states.
I will start with the lowest, onefold vision. This is the completely myopic state of consciousness, where there is only one truth (one’s own perspective, obviously) and that truth is selfishly centred on using the world for one’s own gain and expansion of power. Onefold vision is a state of exclusive rationality, dominating over all other human faculties, leaving the mind cold, hard, and calculating – it reflects the extreme Newtonian mechanical universe; without life beyond mechanism, without heart or spirit. This is a state of blind narcissism and isolation from relationship. Onefold vision is called Ulro.
The next state, Twofold vision is the world of animal instinct. It is nature in its struggle for survival. In twofold vision, oppositions are in conflict. This is very much the struggle of human beings in the world, where things are gained and lost, where there is suffering followed by joy followed by suffering again, where winter is too cold and summer is too hot. It is a realm of passion and conflicting energies. Creation is possible but then destruction is inevitable. Obviously there can be no peace from here. Twofold vision is named Generation.
The state of threefold vision appears as a paradise compared to these previous two, though it is not the ultimate state. Threefold vision is where opposites attain to a state of balance, they become equal, and so loving relationship can ensure. Threefold vision is a pleasant paradise, a restful place of delights. But it is a state of sleepy delights; desire is fulfilled, pleasure, restfulness and contentment are natural, but there is nothing more than this. Blake calls this state Beulah.
Beulah is not the ultimate because it is constrained by pleasant conditions. And much like a good childhood, it is a sheltered paradise, sheltered from the various energies of wider experience. The difference then between threefold and fourfold vision is that fourfold vision contains threefold vision (innocence), but also twofold vision (experience) and onefold vision (rationality), whereas threefold vision cannot handle twofold or onefold states. A child in their innocence is peaceful in a pleasant garden but not so in a war-zone, for example, unless they are a remarkable child. Threefold vision is not complete.
Fourfold vision is the complete integration of the human being, which is the integration of all lower states. From the state of fourfold vision, all that can be possibly conceived by the Imagination can become reality. If you think about this, this can be a terrifying thought, particularly if you are not ready for what your own Imagination might came up with. So the human of fourfold vision, which is Eternal Man (the term man refers to the species, being gender inclusive), must be capable of withstanding such experiences. Fourfold vision is the capacity for all experience, an awareness that is boundless and undaunted by that boundlessness. Another way to say this is that fourfold vision is Heaven, Hell, and Earth as one – it is the human capacity for Infinity and its endless exploration. This is Blake’s equivalent of God, for to Blake, Humanity is God through their Divine Imagination.
That is a brief outline of Blake’s fourfold cosmo-psychology.
1 – From a letter written to Thomas Butts, 25 April 1803. Keynes, Geoffrey, The Letters of William Blake, Macmillan 1956, p. 83, archive.org/stream/lettersofwilliam002199mbp/lettersofwilliam002199mbp_djvu.txt.