A Four-fold Vision
On the 22nd November 1802 the English painter, poet and engraver William Blake wrote
a letter to Thomas Butt, his publisher in London. Blake was living with his wife in a
cottage in Sussex and under the countryside’s mild influence was rediscovering the power
and joy of nature. The letter to Butt was in the form of a poem. One of the verses speaks of
a fourfold vision:
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 Beulah’s night
And twofold Always.
May God us keep
From single vision & Newton’s sleep.
What was Blake referring to in this verse? His fourfold vision is understood to refer to
Eden, that place of paradise in which good and evil do not exist and where souls live in
harmony. Yet how does this paradise of Eden give us a vision that is fourfold and different
from the threefold vision of Beulah?i
For many literary critics Blake’s spiritual life and writings have been read as a mystery
and have been sometimes described as ‘incomprehensible’.ii This disinclination of some
contemporary literary criticism to come to terms with the spiritual in Blake’s poetry, or for
that matter, in literature generally, should not deter the foolhardy from exploring it in
Blake, for whom it meant so much.
In this verse Blake’s emphasis is on vision – ways of seeing - which are generated by
different experiences. The paradise of a fourfold vision was, apparently, a common
everyday experience for him. We learn this from reading his poetry and also from his wife
who wrote to Thomas Butt complaining, ‘Mr Blake spends too much time in heaven.’ Mrs
Blake’s grievance had me imagining a homely scene in the Sussex cottage where Will is
sitting at the kitchen table writing poetry while his wife is sweeping the floor around him.
He puts out his hand to show her a grain of sand and says:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
I imagine Mrs Blake responding with, ‘That’s nice dear; now lift your feet so I can get
at the sand with my broom’. But perhaps this is too harsh a view of the Blake’s domestic
These particular lines tell us something about the possible ways of seeing which
transcends the visible while also, not confusing us about ideas of place. For example, To
see a world in a grain of sand is a fourfold spiritual vision. We have the same fourfold
vision when we see heaven in a wildflower/ Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/ And
eternity in an hour. These lines suggest a fourfold vision because they tell us something
about how we can see beyond the landscape that is immediately visible. Hence, these lines
of Blake’s tell us something about ways of seeing that transcend the visible, which in these
lines are represented by the sand, the wildflower, your hand and the clock’s face. The
invisible, being eternity, infinity, heaven and the context of a world beyond the visible.
A fourfold vision represents a spiritual seeing of the world and therefore directly
challenges the vulgar materialist view. The spiritual and the materialist views are
contrasted in these verses constituting the then and now current undeclared Great War
between spirituality and materialism. Many of us read the world about us, and that includes
the texts of poetry, from a materialist and secular viewpoint. Such a bias represents a
feature of contemporary Western culture and this means that our understanding will
unconsciously begin from a materialistic standpoint. Yet to fully appreciate Blake’s
spirituality we have to stand, not on the ground of materialism but on the metaphysical
ground of meaning.
A fourfold vision is multi-layered and open to everyone to interpret, even the non-
religious. This layering of meaning suggests a seeing that is profound; having a depth of
meaning that has a structure similar to metaphor. This kind of integrated seeing develops
through practice and usually a person needs to be ‘ripened’ by the repetitions of prayer or
meditation before they can experience some of the basic multi-layered interconnectedness of
the universe. While a spiritually ripened person has the capacity to register the similarities
and connections of the world, this kind of gaze goes well beyond the strictly visible and
mechanical view that tends to separate and divide.
A fourfold vision contains the knowledge that when the eye looks upon something it is
actually the spirit of sight that is seeing; when we speak it is meaning that is transmitted;
when the ear hears the vibrations in the air again it is meaning that is transmitted; when we
think, it is the intelligent energy of meaning that is being exchanged; when we love it is the
unity of universal meaning who loves.iii The individual who finds and knows the spirit of
meaning finds and knows his or her true self. Like Blake’s fourfold vision, such a person has
all the joy of heaven.
Now the rational material view of the physical world has superficial similarities to
Blake’s rendering of a threefold vision, yet there are also important differences. Blake
wrote of a threefold vision like this:
And three fold in soft Beulah’s night
Blake’s threefold vision corresponds to our perception of the physical world and these
perceptual processes are set within the context of a three-dimensional space. However, the
three-dimensional space of perception is not normally considered to be a feature of a
rational, material view of the world. Rather, a materialistic view of space conceives of it as
an independent and objective physical feature. As such materialism represents space as a
vacant physical reality, independent of any observation or perception and through which
visible, separate and physical objects move within and across its three dimensions. In terms
of meaning however, Blake’s threefold vision refers, not to an empty, objective physical
space, but to the implicit fullness of perception. From this position, Blake’s threefold
vision is a seeing (by our five senses) through which, and by which, the physical world
comes into being. The physical world exists, therefore, within our perceptual processes.
Mechanical science assumes that the physical world exists – as a place – independent of
ever being observed. In our contemporary culture this is also the world of hard-edged
rational economics, bottom line finances and cold sceptical intellectualism. Yet the
weakness of materialism is that it deals with things it does not like by ignoring, deleting or
changing them. For example, materialists do not like to deal with meaning, language,
culture, spirit, or consciousness so they simply delete these factors from consideration.
Hence, Blake’s fourfold vision of a heavenly paradise is easily dismissed as so much
religious sentimentalism because materialists have already deleted consciousness, meaning
and spirit from their calculations.
Blake rendered a threefold vision as, soft Beulah’s night. This is a poetic image for
sleep. Sleep is an apt description for materialism because the failure to realise its own
incompleteness is a form of unconsciousness or sleep. At times the sleep of materialism is
celebrated and then it becomes a pit of competitive and vengeful emotions that are
reinforced by such credos as, ‘survival of the fittest’, or ‘greed is good’. While materialists
have faith in a dead, threefold physical world, the current and more moderate view of
Meaning holds that a threefold vision is entirely essential in order to produce a fourfold
multi-layered spiritual vision of grace and beauty. This is the vision of Nature that
commands our attention because its aesthetic authority and wholeness exits as a context for
the details of the physical landscape.
If like materialists, we blind ourselves to the very processes of seeing (perception and
conception) we are left, not with the beauty of Nature but with the idea of a separate, dead
and independent physical place where objects move through a four-dimensional
continuum. Note here I have referred to a four-dimensional continuum rather than the three
dimensions of space. The fourth dimension represents that of time.
Yet is time part of the physical world? For the materialist, time is physical and contains
those physical conditions that would allow us to travel through it.iv The conclusion that
time is physical is an easy step to take once the processes of seeing have been deleted by a
materialistic and exclusive focus on the physical. By using these pair of glasses, we are
easily able to transform the concept of time into something that is objective and concrete.
However, this materialistic view of time represents an illusion, for time is no more than a
human calculation, the ratio of random mass change in terms of a stable set of mass
changes: the clock.
After the threefold vision of soft Beulah’s night Blake wrote:
And twofold Always.
What does it mean for a vision to be twofold always? Some purchase on this question
comes from the essay, Compensations by Ralph Waldo Emersonv who wrote about
POLARITY, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light; in
heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and
expiration of plants and animals; in the equation of quantity and quality in the fluids of the
animal body; in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the undulations of fluids, and of sound;
in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. . . . An
inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to
make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; odd, even; subjective, objective; in, out; upper,
under; motion, rest; yea, nay. Whilst the world is thus dual, so is every one of its parts.
Emerson here agrees with Blake - if ‘the world is thus dual’ then it is ‘twofold always’.
This is not the end of the matter, however, because while the world is twofold always this
dualism, some materialists would argue, is reduced to the subjective ability to categorise,
name and classify. In addition, materialists would say that the objective world is independent
and separate from the subjective way we think? If this materialistic statement was true then
we could say nothing objective about the world because everything we can say necessarily
involves the dualism of categorising, naming and classifying. The impossibility of moving
beyond the meaning we make, therefore, provides us with a world that is twofold always.
And this is so and not otherwise because we humans are participants in Nature and not non-
participant, objective observers.
Like Blake’s threefold vision the dualism of twofold Always can help us be open to the
splendours of a fourfold vision of grace and heaven. Alternatively, we can use dualism to
reduce ourselves and close off a spiritual life. Such closures happen when normal dualism is
over-emphasised, so it becomes a binary oppositional and separating statement. In a social
situation such oppositional states can take on the clothes of a moral code expressed in terms
of us versus them. This two-valued exclusive either/or code represents the underlying moral
stance of all tribes, ancient and modern, ethnic, religious or secular as well representing the
moral compass of adolescent behaviour and as well, the guiding force of corporations and
generally, of economic rationalism. Hence, the conundrum which each of us is faced with in
Blake’s twofold Always is how the necessity of dualisms can be an integrated into a larger
Blake’s verse already gives us a clue how to solve this problem. Inherent in the multi-
layered structure of his fourfold vision are the integrated links of consciousness in which the
processes of seeing operate. Emerson also points us in this direction through his use of the
argument that a certain compensation exists within every dualism. Emerson says that ‘a
certain compensation balances every gift and every defect’. For Emerson, one part of every
dualism is always compensated by the other part in such a manner that there is a balance
operating between the two parts of a polarity. We only have to think of the compensation that
balances the male and female of every species. With the idea of balance come connection,
link and integration within a larger contextual framework, such as a fourfold vision.
The dualism of twofold Always therefore does not have to become a set of closed binary
differences that separate and divide, but rather they do exist as a series of distinctions which
connect within larger open holistic systems. The ancient message that accepting the contrary
states of being is an essential step towards recognising God is an example of this kind of
holistic integration. It is a message that comes to us from the ‘middle path’ of Buddhism as
well as the Hindu deity of Shiva in the form of Ardhanari which expresses a balanced
compensation. Ardhanari is the beautiful standing figure of a half man half woman that
speaks to us of the compensation that exists between the strength and frailty of male and
female forms. This deity conveys to us a necessary balance of forces that exist within larger
fourfold vision of paradise. In other cultures, there are similar models operating, for example,
in Chinese medicine there is the central balance of yin and yang. And in modern Western
medicine this kind of balance also operates between hormones within the endocrine system.
Given Blake’s ‘twofold Always’ and Emerson’s ‘the world is thus dual’ how
can we understand the nature of time? Time is normally represented as an
‘arrow’ with three states: past, present and future. How can these three
elements of time be dual? Emerson expressed the view that time was duel
when he began his essay on Compensations with the line:
The wings of Time are black and white,
The orthodox scientific view of time is of an arrow and it challenges the idea presented
here that time has dual states. What then could possibly constitute time’s dualism? The
answer to this question is that the wings of time always move backwards and forwards: to the
past and to the future. These wings are constituted by their explicit and differential
measurements that point us either backwards or forwards. It is the flapping of these wings
that create time. But what of the ‘flapper’; the energy source that causes the wings to flap? I
refer here to the fulcrum or balance point between the two wings which we usually nominate
as ‘the present moment’ or ‘now’. The present moment is not a measurement. Rather, it
represents the potentials for making measurements. ‘Now’ is an essence; an energy potential
which also be referred to as a non-personal ‘I am-ness’. The fulcrum or centre that is ‘I am’
happens to be non-personal because the present moment is generic to everyone.
The generic energy potential of the present moment resonates with what God is
reported to have said to Moses: ‘I am that I am’. Thus, the I am of the present is also God’s
generic and implicit energy force operating through us. This undifferentiated force is
redirected through our conceptual abilities which in turn lead to the measurements that
constitute the wings of time: the movements of past and future. Without this cosmic energy
force, without this God given I am-ness, there would be no measurements of anything and so
no time. Time’s dualism: the past and future wings of time therefore rests on the balance
point of now, which is the I am-ness of the present moment. All spiritual aspirants who seek
to fully realize their spiritual natures through contemplation, prayer or mediation focus on the
undifferentiated state of I am-ness.
One of the critical differences between the past and future wings of time and the present
moment is measurement. The past and the future are measurable, whereas the I am-ness of
the present is unmeasurable. By ‘unmeasurable’ I mean not able to be measured: non-
computational. We are unable to measure the I am-ness of the present because it is constituted
by implicitness (implicit meaning) whereas all measurements are constituted through explicit
and differential meaning. As explicit meaning is absolutely necessary for any measurement to
occur a state of complete implicitness cannot be measured. Such implicitness represents the
generic state of the I am-ness of the present.
The dual wings of time are also constituted through conceptual processes; processes we
commonly call thoughts. Albert Einstein agreed with this view when he was reported to have
said in 1941, some thirty years after he developed his theories of relativity, ‘time and space
are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live’.vi Implicit in Einstein’s
words is the scientific view that the conditions in which we live are objective and physical
and our modes of thinking are personal and subjective. Einstein’s materialistic view is, of
course, not part of the fourfold integrated vision taken here. Nevertheless, we find common
ground with his claim that time (the wings of time) are modes of thought: they are
Because the wings of time are conceptual, they cannot be part of the three dimensions
of space which are immediately perceivable - visible. In other words, the wings of time are
invisible, as are all concepts. We may see a concept in our ‘mind’s eye’ but we do not see a
concept with our eyes. Therefore, we do not perceive time, rather we are only able to
conceive of time. This distinction between the visible of space and the invisible of the
concepts of time indicates that the orthodox metaphor of an ‘arrow of time’ which travels
through a four-dimensional space/time continuum is false and confusing.vii From Blake’s
perspective of a fourfold vision, a four-dimensional space/time continuum is not a separate,
objective and independent system but rather, a continuum within the mind. This continuum of
mind encompasses the three dimensions of sense perception as well as the one conceptual
dimension. This continuum of mind operates within and between the four levels as rendered
by Blake’s verse.
The final lines in this verse provide us with a prayer:
May God us keep
From single vision & Newtons sleep.
These lines refer to the possible negative effects of using language and symbols in a
particular autocratic and singular manner. A single vision is created through the use of
language and symbols when they produce single meanings. This limited and often linear kind
of vision comes from a literal and surface reading or rendering of any text, whether scientific
or religious, as well as from the singular value we place on money.
These lines from Blake’s verse imply that Newton’s mechanical science creates the sleep
of a literal vision. Mechanical and orthodox technology and science rest on axiomatic and
factual knowledge that eschews uncertainty and ambiguity to such a degree that this kind of
knowledge commonly manufactures the sleep of a single vision. Yet the sleep of single vision
is broader than mechanical science and technology for it is also a common method of seeing
in contemporary culture. It is the vision of the tabloid media as well as representing our
reactions to the world when we are over-stressed and in crisis. It is also the vision of the
religious fundamentalist who is willing to fight and sometimes die to keep the ignorance of
his vision strong.
The sleep of single vision is also common to the corporation whose bottom line is always
the symbols of finance. The single value of money (the driving force of all corporations) is
created from exchanging symbols, the value of which has come from the community. When
the fourfold life of society is reduced to exchanges of money, we create through the single
meaning of price the one-dimensional value of the human being. When this happens, we
become the one-dimensional consumer that has not depth of meaning beyond this single
The amnesia of a single vision represents an unawareness of its own limited vision. This
amnesia commonly leads those who see life in surface forms to exaggerate, celebrate or even
proselytize its illusionary benefits. The limitations of a single vision are, however, multiple
and can be grouped under the heading of deleting contextual meaning. For example, that
which is left out of the literal vision of mechanical science and technology is the contexts of
mind, meaning, culture and symbols. For the tabloid media what is normally missing are the
contexts or culture and the environment as well as the financial interests of the publisher. As
for corporation they tend to leave out of consideration the context of the planet’s
For those who pursue or celebrate the sleep of a single vision or the hapless life of binary
opposites Blake’s heaven which is created by a fourfold vision could never be realized. There
would be more chance of a camel going through the eye of a needle than a single vision or
binary opposites leading to the realization of the heavenly state. In contrast, those who
practice a more open method of seeing are far more likely to find a fuller and meaningful life
within the ambit of a fourfold vision.
When added together the implications of Blake’s fourfold vision indicates that any expression
will automatically have seven layers of meaning across at least four contexts. Blake’s
fourfold vision, therefore, sets before us the possibility of seeing life in context. In this sense,
‘in context’ refers to a seeing that take into account the four contexts which Blake refers to in
his verse. These four contexts also represent four integrated levels of meaning and, therefore,
four contexts of our being.viii
i Northrop Frye describes Beulah like this: ‘Beulah for Blake is the earthly paradise,
the state of innocence, the peaceable kingdom and married land of Isaiah 11:6 and
62:4. Beulah in Blake is much the same as the holiday world of the imagination that
I identi#ed earlier with literature and the other arts, where there is entertainment
without argument.’ http://northropfrye-
ii For an example of this view see, D. J. Avery, ‘Women and Wiliam Blake: A
Traditional View of the Role of the Feminine in Blake’s Poetry’,
, 13, 2010, pp 104 – 121.
iii These lines represent my interpretation of the #rst several paragraphs of the
Kena Upanishad, see for example, , Trans.,
Swami Prabhavananda & Frederick Manchester, Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1983.
iv See for example, Paul Davies, (2002) , London:
v All references to Ralph Waldo Emerson in this book are taken from the website:
vi Elizabeth A. Rauscher & Russell Targ, ‘The Speed of Thought: Investigations of a
Complex Space-Time Metric to Describe Psychic Phenomena’,
!, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 331 – 354, 2001.
vii We see an example of this confusion in , 2002: 24.
viii For more, see: Lohrey, A. (2020) "#$
%, Tasmania: Rishi Publications.