Damrosch: ''Newton wrote:
"God formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, movable particles,” which resemble each other just as much “as the sands on the shore.” Whenever we open our eyes, the stream of particles strikes our retinas and triggers signals in the brain."
In response to Newton's description of the matter, Blake had his own response. He would not have disagreed with Newton’s description of the ways in which light always behaves (a credible science study); only that it ignores the metaphysical, to wit he explores light in his paintings. In this respect Blake was more a psychologist and spiritualist with a focus on consciousness. He wrote a poem about this.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine
Blown back they blind the mocking eye
But still in Israel’s paths they shine
The atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright
Damrosch: 'He envokes a great symbolic story, the Exodus from bondage to freedom. The light that illuminates that journey is a spiritual force, not a hailstorm of material particles.'
He used a Biblical analogy with Israel which fits with his own preoccupation with Biblical illustrations. This shows Blake foresaw the reductionist method of science which would in general terms, develop in a way which would divorce humanity from a spiritual or divine existence. Now in 2022, we see that technology and pharmaceutical science have become reductionist, with no general conversation about the divine and metaphysical life as a backbone to their advances..
Blake explained how spiritual light is not just a matter of material particles; that it was not correct to describe everything in reductionist form. He welcomed the move away from religious orthodoxy, but did not want that to mean the loss of all meanings. We cannot nowadays know exactly how the new 'scientific' mindset of 1700s was affecting people's outlook on their future.
To see the world in a grain of sand,
and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.
He may have been inspired by 17th century German mystic, Jacob Boehme, who wrote:
“When I take up a stone or clod of earth and look upon it, then I see that which is above and that which is below; yea, I see the whole world therein.”
Damrosch: That kind of mysticism is very different from the kind that dismisses the visible world as mere illusion. Once, leafing through Constable’s sketchbook, Blake commented on a drawing of trees, “Why, this is not drawing, but inspiration.” “I never knew it before,” Constable replied, no doubt with a smile. “I meant it for drawing".
Eternity, likewise, is present in each moment of lived experience; it is the river of time in which we are continuously immersed. He coined a memorable term for it. “The Eternal Now”
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time”
Blake - ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.