Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Illustration to Pastorals of Virgil

This section of a letter Blake wrote to his most trusted friend, Thomas Butts, contains a passage which is often quoted because it reveals Blake's meaning of Fourfold vision. The verses leading up to the well known verse deserve attention too.

Letters, (E 721)
To Thomas Butts (Nov. 22, 1802)...
"But I will bore you more with some Verses which My Wife desires me to Copy out & send you with her kind love & Respect they were Composed a twelvemonth ago while Walking from Felpham to Lavant to meet my

"Must the duties of life each other cross"
"Must every joy be dung & dross"
"Must my dear Butts feel cold neglect"
"Because I give Hayley his due respect'
"Must Flaxman look upon me as wild"
"And all my friends be with doubts beguild'
"Must my Wife live in my Sisters bane"
"Or my sister survive on my Loves pain'
"The curses of Los the terrible shade"
"And his dismal terrors make me afraid"

So I spoke & struck in my wrath
The old man weltering upon my path
Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might

"My hands are labourd day & night"
"And Ease comes never in my sight"
"My Wife has no indulgence given"
"Except what comes to her from heaven"
"We eat little we drink less"
"This Earth breeds not our happiness"
"Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"
"We are not warmed with thy beams"
"Thou measurest not the Time to me"
"Nor yet the Space that I do see"
"My Mind is not with thy light arrayd"
"Thy terrors shall not make me afraid"

When I had my Defiance given
The Sun stood trembling in heaven
The Moon that glowd remote below
Became leprous & white as snow
And every Soul of men on the Earth
Felt affliction & sorrow & sickness & dearth
Los flamd in my path & the Sun was hot
With the bows of my Mind & the Arrows of Thought
My bowstring fierce with Ardour breathes
My arrows glow in their golden sheaves
My brothers & father march before
The heavens drop with human gore"

The poem enclosed in a letter to Butts is occasioned by the mundane event of a walk to Lavant to meet his sister. Blake's thoughts were not on the walk itself or places he traveled through. As he walked he composed a poem which was provoked by thoughts of relationships with the people in his life. Apparently, during the journey, he went through the complete four stage process of transcending from single to fourfold vision:

1. Being aware of outward events:
'Must the duties of life each other cross'
2. Seeing reality beyond the outer:
"This Earth breeds not our happiness"
"Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"
3. Seeing the universal experience:
'And every Soul of men on the Earth
Felt affliction & sorrow & sickness & dearth'
4. Entering the visionary, creative state:
'With the bows of my Mind & the Arrows of Thought
My bowstring fierce with Ardour breathes
My arrows glow in their golden sheaves'

The ability to experience fourfold was both a gift and a burden to Blake. He claimed elsewhere in this poem that double vision was always with him but his friends and associates were not aware of his transcending the mundane frictions of human relations consistently. The squabbles and affronts of business and intellect made trouble for Blake. But he also had trouble because he saw the roots of human behavior and the implication of seeing only immediate individual consequences of everything going on rather than seeing permanent consequences for humanity. He was often misunderstood because his experience of the spiritual dimensions went beyond that of his associates.

In this poem Blake appears at a very personal level. We see his struggle and triumph but we know the process is not an accomplished fact; it will be repeated as often as necessary to reach the final gate of paradise.

"Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep"

Complete Letter to Butts


susan said...

Thanks, Ellie -- this is really very helpful to me, both as an illustration of what-all Blake means by "four-fold vision" and also because lately I've been much absorbed in the way "the duties of life each other cross."


I recently finished reading the Michael Bedard young adults level biography of Blake -- just about my speed -- so I even have some idea who Thomas Butts was, to Blake!

susan said...

I'm also trying to struggle through Bloom's "The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry." A very difficult book; at least the first section is about Blake, with whom I have some slight familiarity, thanks to the efforts of you Claytons, to spread Blake's gospel...

susan said...

Question about Beulah:

Bloom says on pp. 16-17

"Blake's Beulah is Hebraic and Protestant, in the Left Wing Protestant tradition of the Inner Light; it is the married land of Isaiah and Bunyan, the Beulahland of the Nonconformist hymns."

Can you point me to any resources about "the Left Wing Protestant tradition of the Inner Light" as Bloom uses the term? I assume he would include the early Quaker idea, and of course I don't like the Quaker Inner Light of Christ to correspond to something less than the highest level!

Also, can you point me to any "Nonconformist hymns" with Beulahland? I'm only dimly aware of the "Nonconformists" in English church history...


ellie said...

Larry will give you a link to the section of his book on non-conformity.

Much of what has been said on the Blog about the subjects of Beulah and non-conformists can be found by clicking on the label Beulah. Milton too was a non-conformist although he became a government functionary.

ellie said...

I meant the label Bunyan.

ellie said...

Susan, Non conformism is a tall order, going back to the very beginning of Christianity. Those who don't hold to the conventional doctrines are named non-conformist (and most often heretics), by the conformists of course. The Arians became non-conformists because they denied the deity of Jesus. Look at my History of the Church at

Susan J. said...

Sorry - I didn't mean to open a can of worms -- I guess I just assumed that Bloom was using the term non-conformist more narrowly, about Blake's specific time & place... I was really mostly hoping to find a "non-conformist hymn" or two..."

Thanks for pointing me to the Bunyan link -- I had been looking for Beulah, to no avail :-)