VISION is the perception of the human in all things. All nature is a projection of ourselves. “As a man is, So he Sees.” Each person sees the universe in his own way. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way” (To Trusler, 23 Aug 1799). No two painters could possibly paint the same landscape identically. “All that we See is Vision” (Laoc, K 776). However, it is seen “not with but through the eye.” The psychological term is empathy; it is the direct contrary of Ruskin’s unfortunate theory of the Pathetic Fallacy.
Blake’s visions were not supernatural: they were intensifications of normal experience. He believed that “all men partake of it, but it is lost by not being cultivated” (CR 264). “You have the same faculty as I . . . only you do not trust or cultivate it. You can see what I see, if you choose. . . . You have only to work up imagination to the state of vision, and the thing is done” (Gil I, 364). But “The Nature of Visionary Fancy, or Imagination, is very little Known” (LJ, K 605).
As a painter, Blake could visualize things not actually before his eyes. But the thought-emotions which rose from his subconscious inevitably took human form in visual symbols, with a vividness and completeness comparable to the color-visions of peyote. “He who does not imagine in stronger and better lineaments, and in stronger and better light than his perishing and mortal eye can see, does not imagine at all” (DesC IV, K 576). This happens to everybody in his dreams; Blake’s visions might be considered waking dreams.
Blake always insisted that Vision and Memory are entirely different; yet it is obvious that Memory furnished all the raw materials for his visions. But something happened to these materials in his subconscious: they altered, combined into new forms, in accordance with the thought which Blake was expressing. Therefore, even when he seemed to be copying, he gave a freshness and spontaneity to his images, so that they became original with him. He used these materials; he did not really copy; he was no plagiarist. His attacks on Memory as inspiration were therefore impelled by that selfprotective instinct which permits the creations by denying sources. See PAINTING.
Blake distinguished four degrees of Vision. “Now I a fourfold vision see, | And a fourfold vision is given to me; | ’Tis fourfold in my supreme delight | And threefold in soft Beulah’s night | And twofold Always. May God us keep | From Single vision & Newton’s sleep!” (To Butts, 22 Nov 1802, 2nd letter, 83–88).
Single vision is not properly “vision” at all: it is seeing with the physical eye only the facts before it. It “leads you to Believe a Lie | When you see with, not thro’ the Eye” (EG d:105). Twofold vision is seeing “through” the eye: it is the perception of the human values in all things. Then the thistle in the path reveals a discouraging old man (To Butts, 22 Nov 1802, 23–30), or the rising sun “an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!’” (LJ, K 617). Threefold vision “in soft Beulah’s night” is the creative state, where thought appears in emotional form. Fourfold vision, “my supreme delight,” is the mystical ecstasy, such as the one Blake has just been describing to Butts.
Blake claimed he had the ability to see visions “from earliest infancy” (Gil I, 7). The earliest we know of occurred at the age of four, when God put his head to the nursery window and set him ascreaming (CR 293). Blake, however, dated his “first vision” when he was a boy “of eight or ten perhaps”; sauntering in Peckham Rye, he saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” This was followed shortly one summer morn when he saw angelic figures walking amid the haymakers (Gil I, 7). His father tried to beat this mendacious nonsense out of him, but the boy persisted. He knew well enough that these angels were the products of his imagination; but he was not lying—his visions were valuable aesthetic facts. And he kept on seeing visions all his life.