William Blake’s Four-Fold Imagination

—Cover image, detail from ‘Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion’ by William Blake, plate 53, printed in 1821—

—Quoted text, from ‘The Four-Fold Imagination,’ essay on Aeon.co by Mark Vernon—

"At the time, there were few with the eyes to see and ears to hear him [William Blake]. The industrial age was booming, manifesting the insights of the scientific revolution. It was a tangibly, visibly changing society, fostering an almost irresistible focus on the physical aspects of reality. The narrowing of outlook is captured in one of Blake’s best-known images, entitled ‘Newton’ (1795-1805). It depicts the natural philosopher on the seabed, leaning over a scroll, compass in hand. He draws a circle. It’s an imaginative act. Only, it’s imagination rapt in the material world alone, devoted to studying what’s measurable. For Blake, Isaac Newton represents a mentality trapped within epicycles of thought. While claiming to study reality, it isolates itself from reality, and so induces, as he wrote in a letter to his patron Thomas Butts, ‘Single vision and Newton’s sleep’...

...[Blake's] sense of his immortality arises with a recognition of the conviction upon which Blake bet his life: the human imagination is not only capable of entertaining fantasy. When coupled to creative skill and penetrating thought, it reveals the truths of existence and life. It converts everyday incidents into rich perceptions that might amount to a revolution in experience. It underpinned Blake’s vocation as a visionary and a thinker... And it promised the gift of what Blake called ‘fourfold vision’, a taste of which can be gained by considering what it allowed him to perceive when observing the sunrise. ‘When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?’ he has an interlocutor ask him in an imagined exchange. ‘O no, no! I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!”,’ he replies."

~ From 'The Four-Fold Imagination,' essay on Aeon.co by Mark Vernon
William Blake, ‘Newton’ c. 1805

Twilight in the Underworld

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