Auguries of Innocence: the Connected and Consequential Cosmos

Reconciliation ecologist Pete Yeo took inspiration from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence in a new-found understanding of the natural world through chaos theory and fractals. Here, he shares his appreciation of Blake’s words and their popularity for how they speak directly to the heart of the matter.


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

Why is it that these opening lines of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence have become so well-known? Might the answer draw out a dichotomy in our modern relationship with the cosmos, yet still augur well for our necessary reconciliation with the web of life?

I cannot now recall when I first encountered these lines yet I suspect it was in the early nineties, around the time of my introduction to chaos theory and fractal geometry following a travelling scholarship to the USA. Whilst I may have begun with an intellectual interpretation of his poem’s beautiful opening invitation, his words would have resonated with my felt experience of the connective patterning of the world around me. I’m sure I’m not alone in having seen the macrocosm in the microcosm, and vice versa. Blake’s words are popular, I suggest, because they speak directly to the heart of matter.

auguries of innocence - repeating patterns in nature
A familiar fractal metapattern: what social scientist Gregory Bateson called ‘the Pattern that Connects’.
Photograph: Pete Yeo

Recalling that trip to the USA, and a mind alive with new-found understanding and meaning, I began to see further into the depth of the world as I toured nature preserves around the southeastern states. And not just with my mind; an artist’s feeling sense was being nurtured too. Atop a landmark granite outcrop in Georgia, I took a photograph that was soon to have great significance for me. The subject was simple enough, a crescent of lichen and moss initiating the process of plant colonisation around a small solution pool of less than half a metre square. With time, as weathering and root action proceeded, they would be joined by grasses, perhaps a shrub or two, even a pine sapling. In awe of the power of the vegetal realm, there I left it.

Vegetal beginnings; the solution pool atop Heggie’s Rock, Georgia.
Photograph: Pete Yeo

A golden thread 

On my return to the UK I began to satisfy my craving for more knowledge of chaos theory, the self-similar scaling of fractals and, inevitably, quantum physics. Within a better grasp of Life, how might I use this information in my work with plants? It wasn’t long before serendipity offered its help. The latest issue of a magazine subscription included a supplement on Australia, within which was a photograph that rather took my breath away. It was an aerial shot of a beautiful bay fringed by mangrove forest, this forest exhibiting the same light/dark green banding as the lichen (light) and moss (dark) in Georgia. The similarities can, of course, be explained rationally, and yet, for me, it was a heart-felt sign; here was a golden thread to follow.

The serendipitous, scaled-up vegetal crescent on the coast of Australia.
Photograph: Unknown

Plants have long ignited my imagination, and they had taken me to the States. These days I have a growing appreciation of the extent to which they have supported me throughout my life as I have searched for meaning in various ways and places. They have been both generic and specific totems. It is with deep gratitude that I now work with them as nature connection portals for others, supported by the latest discoveries in plant behaviour, intelligence and connectivity. My interest in physics has continued alongside, especially in recent years with the fascinating insights arising from the field of unified physics (readily accessible via the Resonance Science Foundation, for instance).

Auguries of innocence: a unified field

This new physics is radically evolving our modern worldview, evidencing the ancient spiritual mantra, known to Blake we might imagine, that “All is One”. The mind is now explaining what hearts have long felt; rather than having separatist dominion over a ‘clockwork universe’ of parts, we are an expression of a living cosmos that is far more than the sum of its interdependent parts. The ‘Ocean of Being’ is now described as an immersive, unified field of energy from which all physical matter is spun into patterned existence across an infinite scale. As plant cognition scientist Monica Gagliano puts it, “we are not in nature, we don’t go to nature. We are nature. We literally spring out of the planet.”

auguries of innocence - the cosmic matrix
The cosmic matrix, the “flower of life”, each circle actually an overlapping sphere in 3D.
Photograph: Pete Yeo

This unified field expresses the sacred geometry known to the ancients, its foundational structure represented by the ‘flower of life’ symbol, and its fundamental energy flow pattern by the yin yang symbol. Inherent to the latter is a reflexive learning and evolving mechanism known as ‘feedback/feedforward’. This is reflected, for example, in the Earth’s electromagnetic field or a halved apple. Simply use opposing fingers to trace a pattern exiting one pole, passing along either side, re-entering at the other pole, and reuniting via the core. In other words, what is given out to the world is received back, things work or they don’t. Just as Blake’s poem goes on to suggest, our actions have consequences for us in time, and we can learn and evolve accordingly.

William Blake’s Newton (1795): colour print with pen & ink and watercolour.
Image: The William Blake Archive

And so, we come full circle. Whilst Blake took issue with the emergence of Science, most notably with his painting Newton, this adventure in reductive reasoning – the so-called Enlightenment that became what countercultural intellectual Charles Eisenstein calls the ‘Story of Separation’ – was perhaps a necessary detour for humanity. Putting a positive spin on the matter, the inherent and multivalent learning therein has likely moved us forward as a species, delivered us to a more informed space. I would like to think that my personal journey into disconnection has had a similar outcome in microcosm. It could be said that we have come full spiral; indeed, in 3D the yin yang’s energy flow pattern is in fact spiralling (for a visualisation, see the link in the notes below).

Better connection

As heart and mind, feeling and intellect reconvene in our crisis-ridden time there would appear to be cause for hope. Yet, however resonant our intellect, that is no guarantee of better decision-making. Consider the decades of appeals to society with respect to climate change. The world around us and its events need to be acutely felt for effective action to be taken – what has been called compassionate empathy – just as you might act on chronic pain within your own body. The revolution is love, as they say, and we care for what we love.

Thankfully our heart connection is always there for us; to modify an old adage, you can try to take the child from the cosmos yet you can’t take the cosmos from the child. The new physics is telling us that at the centre of every 3D yin yang, at whatever scale we choose – from proton to galaxy, we will find singularity and the intimate portal of connection with the unified field of the cosmos, or ‘Source’. Far more than a pump, the human heart, generator of the body’s largest electromagnetic field, is in every sense our centre of felt connection.

Auguries of innocence - the seed of truth
Whatever the scale, there is a seed of truth at the heart of matter.
Photograph: Pete Yeo

It is no coincidence that just when we most need to reconcile ourselves with our planetary home there is now a popular surge in nature connection activities, like forest school (for all ages) or foraging, alongside ecological campaigning. A beneficial aspect of today’s media is that they are helping us feel the collective trauma. The restorative power of our heartfelt connection, evidenced also in the rise of forest bathing and nature prescriptions, can even ‘resuscitate’ those numb to the world around them, to quote nature connection practitioner Danny Shmulevitch. It could be as simple as bathing in a starry night. The joy of the world is as much ours as its pain; as the yin yang symbol shows, they are intimately entwined.

Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine

These later lines from Auguries of Innocence further evidence Blake’s channelling of some mighty wisdom, describing the seed of truth at the heart of matter – our consequential connection to cosmos. What, I wonder, might have happened if Isaac Newton had interpreted his falling apple another way, coming to know that he had held infinity in the palm of his hand and eternity in that hour? Blake may smile wryly at the question, yet in fairness to Newton, I’ll close with a line from another popular text, the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.

No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.


Notes

In his previous Finding Blake post, An Evergreen and Pleasant Land?, Pete finds inspiration in William Blake’s poem that later became the hymn Jerusalem when contemplating the impacts of our changing climate on Britain’s evergreen plantlife.

For more from Pete, see his website, Future Flora, and his similarly-named Facebook page for weekly musings. Lately, he’s felt a call to write more expansively on the need for a more holistic and reverential relationship with the plant realm (and hence all Life). At times the muse has felt rather Blakean.

You can read Auguries of Innocence and more of Blake’s poems at Poetry Foundation. In a September 2020 article on Blake’s four-fold imagination, Mark Vernon discusses Blake’s view of the limitations of the ‘singular’ vision of science as exemplified by Isaac Newton and illustrated in Blake’s painting.

Wikipedia, as ever, has useful introductions to chaos theory and fractal geometry, and there is more at the Resonance Science Foundation, a global research and education non-profit organization working for the unification of physics and science as a whole.

You can hear plant cognition scientist Monica Gagliano, as quoted by Pete, discuss plant sentience in this 2020 podcast from Camden Art Audio. For more on the ‘flower of life’ and yin yang symbols Pete discusses — and illustrates in his image, the cosmic matrix — again Wikipedia provides good overviews. Pete has provided this link to a more 3D illustration of the spiralling nature of the yin yang energy flow, as mentioned in his text.

Pete mentions the thinking of Charles Eisenstein on the ‘Story of Separation’, and you can watch a short video of Charles talking about the root of this separation on his website.

For more on the restorative power of connection with nature, see these pieces on forest bathing and nature prescriptions and the work of Danny Shmulevitch.

Finally, the full text of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata is available here.

Blake & Nature Spirituality: 1 – Universal Awareness

In Divine Madness James Fox described how he’d found in Blake’s work a poetic and visual representation of a psycho-spiritual philosophy that accounted for his own embroilment in the machinery and over-thinking of the rational ego, and the suffering that follows from that. He’d found in Blake glimpses of a consciousness freed from the egoic state. In the first of a new three-part series, James expands on his experiences of mental states and of universal awareness. Later posts will elaborate Blake’s doctrine of the four Zoas, and outline a project James is working on: a manifesto, a programme of practice and study to cultivate a mental space that has an understanding of its place in the world. 


Following a chance meeting with Robin Hatton-Gore at Blake’s new gravestone in August, following its unveiling the day before, I was invited to give a talk to the Mental Fight Club, a charity of which he is a trustee and which aims to assist recovery from mental illness through inspiring creative events and projects. Blake is regarded as the spirit guide of the club through founder Sarah Wheeler’s love of his work. The material here is based on the talk I gave at the Dragon Café in Borough, London, in November 2018. 

Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion (copy E, printed c1821) Source: The William Blake Archive www.blakearchive.org

Mental fight

A few years ago I would awake in the middle of the night, heart beating quickly, my nerves jangling, a vice around my forehead and a nauseous feeling of something sour and rotten welling up. Unable to return to sleep I would get up, make a cup of tea and settle down in another room with a notebook and pen to sort out my problem. I would try to work out, think out, what it was that was disturbing my sleep and producing the unpleasant physical sensations. 

As well as my day job in publishing I was working in my spare time on a philosophical project of my own, which was intended to solve (don’t laugh) all those apparent dilemmas that philosophers have been working over for more than 2,000 years – and continue to do so today. What is the meaning of life? Where is it to be found? Are we really annihilated at death? What is the ultimate nature of the world, of ourselves and of our relationship to it?

This was an over-ambitious project, following on from a PhD in the history of philosophy, alongside work editing academic texts. My rational faculty was in overdrive – though I could not see this at the time. And so the knotted ball of string that was my mind, the stress of which was waking me in the night, was pulled yet tighter when I got up to think my way out of my problem.

I had always been interested in the fundamental nature of the world. One of my earliest memories is of my mother teaching me astronomy prior to attending primary school. My first proper job had been in the natural sciences – meteorology. But I was also interested in the fundamental nature of ourselves as human beings – and this had led me into philosophy. The desire to pull together my philosophical interests and express them in my latest project was therefore my raison d’être – and so, despite finding myself in a situation where I was suffering from stress and insomnia, I could not give up this project that was overtaxing me. And nor was I prepared to change my day job or my other day-to-day living arrangements, out of a concern that it would disrupt my supposed life’s work. Worse was to come. Writing, something I had always done since my first novellas at age ten, became an increasingly fraught process, adding to stress. I was creatively blocked, able neither to realise my raison d’être nor to change my situation.

A universal awareness 

During those disturbed months I would find solace in a secluded grove I frequented on the edge of Dartmoor, near to where I live. Rarely encountering other people there, the only sounds are those of the birds, the breeze in the trees and the grass and the gently flowing stream.

On one such visit, after sitting in the sunlight for some time, trying to relax and calm the ideas competing for attention inside my brain, each with their own self-imagined importance and urgency, I opened my eyes to see the tree by the stream had been invested with some strange, new, enhanced presence. And as I gazed upon it a light-headedness possessed me, as not just the tree but everything in my experience – the very nature of experience itself – began to undergo a transformation that was both alien, entirely novel and unknown. This was not frightening, but came with the immediate sense that something very remarkable, very unusual, was announcing itself to me.

Jerusalem, Albion Rising - a universal awareness. From The William Blake Archive
Jerusalem, Albion Rising Source: The William Blake Archive http://www.blakearchive.org/

Had the world changed or had I changed? The raging swarm of ideas that had been plaguing me had been miraculously taken away: whether a million miles away, or even annihilated entirely, essentially beyond the world I now found myself in. My mental space, cleansed of thoughts, had become a crystalline substance, as had the world of things: my mind and the world were one. There was nothing left of ‘me’ except as a particular point of view in space and time at which a universal awareness was disclosing itself – to itself.

I now experienced my own awareness as that of this universal awareness – and I saw, I felt, that I was eternal. The idea of my own death meant nothing to me now. Sure, my own body would one day cease to function organically and be transformed by fire or worms; but my awareness, my sentience, my very self – that was eternal. And so I found myself in a state of bliss, of the profoundest tranquillity – of the revelation of Heaven on Earth – in which a divine presence seemed to penetrate and radiate out of every thing, tranquillising all movement such that I seemed to become aware of a stillness in the motion of the leaves in the trees and of a silence in the sound of the pouring of the stream. And yet, this blissful state, this Heaven on Earth, I now saw, is present always – it is here now – we just have to awaken to it.

In this state I felt that I had arrived at that which I had been searching for philosophically for many years. The sense of completion, of having found the Holy Grail. Yet, as is usual with mystical experience, I found myself sinking back into the ego-world, the vision afforded me now reduced to a mere memory. In the return to my old state I found myself still creatively blocked, and the stress returned and the feeling of rotten acidic bilge water seeping up once more – if anything, worse than ever.

An opened door  

Previously I had been on a quest for treasure, the nature of which I knew not what. Now I knew its nature. Now I had touched the philosopher’s stone and had to touch it again. But how? For the treasure had been revealed to me. The door had been opened for me. I did not have the key myself. I had never had it.

Then one day, in the spring of 2017, I found myself in Glastonbury, browsing in a second-hand bookshop while Mrs Fox did some shopping of her own. Not looking for any special subject in particular – and Blake was certainly not on my mind – I somewhat apathetically pulled out a book simply entitled William Blake. It was written by John Middleton Murry, the prolific author of more than sixty books and editor of the Adelphi magazine. Murry was married to Katherine Mansfield and was part of a scene that included the likes of D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley. Both Lawrence and Huxley were interested in mysticism. The title of one of Huxley’s books on the subject, The Doors of Perception, is taken from Blake’s work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The Doors rock group took their name from Huxley’s work.

John Middleton Murry
John Middleton Murry Source: Pinterest

I opened the covers of William Blake. Murry begins with a quote from Blake’s An Island in the Moon:

When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.

Murry then writes:

There is the magic. One’s heart sinks to rest; and everything else becomes still. Stillness within, stillness without. For those voices are not heard with the bodily ear; that laughter breaks no silence … The clamour lapses into an eternal moment, and the world is born anew. The sentient soul is bathed in the waters of the spirit. The doors of perception are cleansed; and the world gleams forth with the bloom and brightness of a new creation.

As I read, a spiritual sun began to glow inside me. Almost immediately I sensed the presence of that key I’d been searching for since what Blake calls the Countenance Divine had shone forth for me in that green and pleasant grove on the edge of Dartmoor.

Murry continues:

This experience, whether it comes to us mediately through the creation of art, or immediately in a timeless instant of pure contemplation, is twofold in its character. It reveals the world without, and it reveals the world within. Objectively, that which we contemplate – be it sight or sound, directly or at one remove – is, as it were, clarified. The veil of quotidian perception is lifted. Subjectively, we are also clarified. The world and we, alike, are cleansed. Both pass into a new medium: the medium of Imagination, as Blake called it. In that medium we touch a new order of reality – a new reality in ourselves, and in the object which we contemplate.

I quickly saw in those opening pages of William Blake that Middleton Murry himself had experienced the Countenance Divine; and when I later began reading the book properly was satisfied that it was this, what Blake terms ‘spiritual sensation’, and all its psychological and philosophical aspects and ramifications, that is at the core of his work. 


Notes

James Fox is a philosopher and former researcher at the Open University and is a co-author of A Historical Dictionary of Leibniz’s Philosophy (Scarecrow Press, 2006). He is now mostly interested in mystical texts, especially pantheistic nature-based doctrines and practices which he sees as key to transforming our conception of ourselves in relation to the world: a transformation that can lead to the spiritual experience of total at-homeness in (at one with) the natural environment and hence to the feeling of a reverence and duty of care towards that environment. Prior to pursuing philosophy, he held a position in a climate research department at the UK Meteorological Office.

James attended the unveiling of Blake’s new gravestone at Bunhill Fields in August 2018. Here, you can see a short interview he gave there to Finding Blake’s James Murray-White.

Building on the Countenance Divine and universal awareness, in his next post, James elaborates Blake’s doctrine of the Four Zoas, and relates them to underlying ideas of the psyche that may be met with in various belief systems throughout history and across cultures.

Mental Fight Club describes itself as, “in essence, an adventure story.” Founded by Sarah Wheeler, drawing inspiration from poets Ben Okri and William Blake and other muses, the club’s mission is “to put on imaginative events for people of all mental experience. All our events seek to connect our inner and our outer world and ourselves to one another, whoever we may be.” Mental Fight Club created and meets at the Dragon Café. 

A Pocketful of Riches: Adapting Blake to Song

Joseph A. ThompsonWe welcome Joseph Andrew Thompson as our latest author for Finding Blake. Joseph is a composer, musician, writer and the creative mind behind the duo Astralingua. Their forthcoming album, Safe Passage, features their adaptation of William Blake’s poem A Poison Tree. This song is released today and Finding Blake is delighted to publish this account of its development to mark its release. 


William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience immediately enthralled me upon first read. A high school friend had lent me his worn copy, and I read, amazed by its elegant simplicity. It presented itself like a children’s storybook, complete with illustrations, perfect rhyme, and steady meter. Yet, beneath this playful facade was a masterwork, rife with meaning, craft, metaphor, and vision.

When I learned of the existence of other editions, I ventured to the bookstore to pore through any I might find. I would have been very delighted at purchasing my own illustrated copy, but with only a pittance to spare that day, settled instead on a text-only pocket version by Penguin that I found amidst the larger hardcovers.

Astralingua - Blake & Guitar
Astralingua – Blake & Guitar. Photo: Astralingua © 2018

Discovering A Poison Tree

The little songbook easily fit in my coat pocket and for the first six months of possessing it, I carried it around with me, reading it in quiet moments. It was still with me in college, when on many an evening, a fellow songwriter and I stood in my humble apartment, passing it back and forth, reading aloud the poems in different voices. Always a favorite, A Poison Tree was memorized, and often read in a voice not unlike Montresor’s, from Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. In time, the book eventually made its way to a pocket of my carry bag, where still to this day it stays, like a most trusted talisman.

One evening a few years ago, while working on my band Astralingua’s coming album Safe Passage, my music partner Anne R. Thompson and I were at once struck by the idea of adapting one of Blake’s songs to music. Needing no deliberation, the obvious choice was A Poison Tree, as few among my friends had not at one time or another heard me slyly recite it. Excited by the idea, I retrieved my shoulder bag and found my little copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience.

As I flipped through the pages, I thought back to my college days with the book, and suddenly recalled an old song on which I had worked then. Absorbed in Romanticism, I had been writing in a Blakean mood of sorts, but dissatisfied with my lyrics, had since left the song unfinished. Now, I wondered if it might in some way fit A Poison Tree. Almost magically, with but a few changes to the original melody, it did so seamlessly, leaving me to wonder if this marriage of the two had not always been my true intent.

Cover Art for A Poison Tree, by Astralingua.
Cover Art for A Poison Tree, by Astralingua. Design: Astralingua © 2018

In the midst of Safe Passage

And thus our version was born and grew. That night, Anne and I giddily sang it together, myself on guitar, and her reading from my pocketbook, harmonizing the melody. In production, we tried to give it an Old World minstrel sound, to place it closer to Blake’s era. With the voice and melody, I sought to convey the revelling dark glee with which, in my imagination, I always hear it read. During the sequencing, the song was placed in the middle of the album, at a darker part of its narrative.

Safe Passage is a discussion on mortality, isolation, struggle, and the movement between worlds. A Poison Tree, with its dual realities — that of the narrator and that of his unsuspecting foe — fits right in with the other tracks. Rich in possible interpretations, it helps press further the album’s central questions: How, if at all, can safe passage be attained? Who or what provides it? Who denies it?

Astralingua: Composer Joseph Andrew Thompson and backup vocalist Anne Rose Thompson
Astralingua: Composer Joseph Andrew Thompson and backup vocalist Anne Rose Thompson. Photo: Lisa Siciliano © 2018

I hope our adaptation brings the listener just as much joy in hearing it as I got from creating it, and more so, brings a smile to the face of a great poet in the sky.

You can hear A Poison Tree from today via our bandcamp link here: 

Additional:

And you can now also enjoy this video presentation of Astralingua’s A Poison Tree — words and images by William Blake. 


Notes

Astralingua are composer Joseph Andrew Thompson and backup vocalist Anne Rose Thompson. The nomadic space-folk duo explores life’s unknowns, blending haunting vocal harmonies, radiant strings, and otherworldly soundscapes into crafted songs that fall somewhere between classical, folk and psychedelia. You can discover more of their work at astralingua.com and at bandcamp.  

Their album Safe Passage is available for pre-order now, and will be released in early March 2019:

You can find Blake’s poem A Poison Tree at Poetry Foundation and there is a short analysis of “one of English literature’s most striking explorations of the corrupting effects of anger … one of William Blake’s miniature masterpieces” at interestingliterature.com. And don’t forget that there’s more to explore in the Blakean Articles and Other Blakean Artefacts pages in A Blakean Archive!