Auguries of Innocence

by William Blake

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

In his prophetic works, Blake describes four types of vision: fourfold vision, the highest visionary state; threefold vision, identified with Beulah (Paradise) and innocence; twofold vision, which is the realm of experience; and the single vision of Newtonian physics and abstract reasoning. “Auguries of Innocence” deals primarily with threefold vision, the mental state closest to the true enlightenment of fourfold vision, and one should not, therefore, expect the poem to reflect either the realism of experience or the formal consistency of abstract logic. For example, the couplet that asserts that “Each outcry of the hunted Hare/ A fibre from the Brain does tear” does not seem accurate in terms of experience or logic, but, from a more visionary perspective, such a statement can have much validity. It describes the consequences of the physical act of rabbit hunting on the visionary ability of the hunter, who through his cruelty falls from innocence to the less imaginative state of experience. Many of the poem’s couplets are, in fact, warnings about loss of vision as a result of acts of cruelty, and the poem as a whole attests the fragility of innocence. Since innocence is prized in the poem as the gateway to fourfold vision, the doubter who would mock an infant’s faith is seen as particularly criminal: “He who shall teach the Child to Doubt/ The rotting Grave shall neer get out.” The doubter’s total lack of imagination will ultimately trap him in the “rotting Grave” of the physical universe.

Thus the couplets of the poem, through a series of paradoxes and riddles, seek to challenge and expand the reader’s vision of reality. Those who are cruel, or who become obsessed with rank, wealth, or power, can never see beyond the twofold vision of experience to the threefold vision of innocence or the fourfold vision of eternity. Moreover, those who put their faith in the visible universe are doomed from the start: “He who Doubts from what he sees/ Will neer Believe do what you Please.”

The poem’s last six lines describe two ways of seeing: with the eyes and through the eyes. Seeing with the eyes leads the percipient to a mistaken faith in the visible universe, but by seeing through the eyes, with imaginative vision rather than physical sight, the percipient can break through the physical world and escape its “Night.” To those who dwell in this night of visible perception, “God appears & God is Light,” but to the visionaries “who Dwell in Realms of day,” God “does a Human Form Display.” As in the opening quatrain of the poem, the infinite is represented by the particular: God can be visualized in human form just as the world can be seen in a grain of sand or heaven in a wildflower. In essence, “Auguries of Innocence” reveals the illusory nature of the physical universe in order to develop the reader’s ability to see the infinite in everything. This perceptual cleansing, Blake suggests, will ultimately lead to fourfold vision.

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