A talk given to the
Unitarian Universalist Congregation
of the Grand Valley
Grand Junction, Colorado
Phil Ellsworth August 6. 2017
“The day of days, the great day in the feast of life, is that in which the inward eye opens to the Unity in things*,—” In those few words Emerson told what he had discovered, how it happened, and how it felt.
Those words could have been written by Beethoven, by Leonardo DaVinci, by Steven Weinberg in his red Camaro discovering the unification of forces, or by someone doing such a mundane thing as looking for mineral deposits.
As a mineral exploration geologist, I spent a career thinking about discovery: what it is, how it happens, and how it feels. Now I try to find the same rewards in poetry, because each new combination of words which works is a discovery. Something new is discovered in words which were there all the time. Of course, it only works on rare occasions.
Proust said: “I had arrived then at the conclusion that in fashioning a work of art we are by no means free, that we do not choose how we shall make it but that it pre-exists us and therefore we are obliged, since it is both necessary and hidden, to do what we should have to do if it were a law of nature — to discover it.” And Proust speaks of analogy as pointing to the essences of things; and of “the miracle of analogy.” These are concepts at the heart of scientific discovery.
In a little book, “Science and Human Values,” Jacob Bronowski says, “All science is the search for unity in hidden likenesses. The discoveries of science, the works of art are explorations — more, are explosions, of a hidden likeness.” And he says that “the great poem and the deep theorem are new to every reader, and yet are his own experiences, because he himself re-creates them. They are the marks of unity in variety; and in the instant when the mind seizes this for itself, in art or in science, the heart misses a beat.”
When I read Keat’s “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” I know that it is describing the feeling I had when I first made a discovery of a hidden likeness, and this makes me think that the moment of discovery in the arts and in science is the same.
A New Day
“When I was young I searched and suddenly A likeness solved a mystery And since that day of days I’ve known my way As sure as any star’s trajectory, For I hear a voice within me say,
“For every earthly treasure you would find, Find first a hidden likeness in your mind, And all the covering waste will fall away And suddenly what is and what might be Will blaze forth like the dawn of a new day.”
Hideki Yukawa, a Nobel Laureate in physics, spoke of likenesses in terms of analogy. He said, “The essence of analogy as a form of creative thinking can be briefly put. Suppose that there is something which a person cannot understand. He happens to notice the similarity of this to some other thing which he understands quite well. By comparing them he may come to understand the thing which he could not understand up to that moment.”
Almost hidden in Yukawa’s explanation is the word “happens.” But in it is the world of creativity. It signifies a chance combination of ideas. The similarity is noticed suddenly, by chance. Two things that have not been thought of in the same context are seen to be alike.
Steve Watson has told me of the Japanese word “satori,” which means sudden enlightenment. That seems to me to be what I would call “the moment of discovery.”
In Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time the narrator toward the end of the book discovers the “miracle of analogy,” that analogies point to the essences of things, something that would have been familiar to Yukawa. In fact, the reader finds that it is this that has made possible the writing of the 4000 or so pages he has just read. And so, the miracle of analogy, so responsible for discoveries in science, is responsible also for this book, called one of the greatest literary achievements of the 20th Century.
And Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
The Turquoise Sea
I dreamed a treasure’s hiding place Was like the snow-white strand Between a jeweled turquoise sea And some exotic land,
And in my dream the sea had gone A billion years ago, But still I’d find the treasure’s lair, For, looking, I would know
That some things tell of vanished seas And some of vanished land, And finding both, I’d look between And find the hidden strand,
And in the strand a treasure-trove — the vision promised me — But morning’s finger touched the dream That held the vanished sea,
And suddenly Space changed to Time And In-between to Now, And there I found the treasured strand, The likeness showed me how.
The poem “The Turquoise Sea” begins as a description of an actual exploration project. The idea is proposed that what we are looking for is an ancient shoreline. This idea first comes to someone almost as a revelation; someone has looked at the rocks and has said, ”I am looking at an old shoreline, and it is in it that I see evidence of what I am searching for.” But it is almost all deeply buried. Exploration proceeds by drilling holes and recognizing land in some holes and off-shore in others, in this way defining the ancient shoreline along which to explore. At the end of the poem an analogy is made between space and time, and this analogy is said to appear suddenly, for in fact, that is how it happens.
A saying in the search for gold Was “Gold is where you find it”: That Nature has chaotic rules Or none at all to bind it. But things have turned out differently Though no one would have dreamed as much, For who could dream that this would be? That these two mine walls which I see And reaching widely I can touch Were once two drifting castaways From island arc and ocean floor; That Friday-like and Crusoe-like They washed upon our western shore To find there other castaways And with them form a new domain Where there had been no land before,
And gold, which seemed a random thing Scattered by some power above, Is really golden filigree That binds two strangers caught by love.
In the poem “The Castaways” it has been realized that the gold deposits occur at the contacts of accreted terranes, pieces of Pacific seafloor and islands that have been jammed onto North America, overriding or sliding under the rocks already there.
Fragments of forgotten lands Rafted on forgotten seas Welded to the western strands Like some gigantic marquetry All inlaid with gold between Time’s mosaic of what has been Portending what is yet to be.
In the early 1950’s a U.S. Geological Survey geologist pointed out that small uranium deposits on the west side of the Black Hills occurred at a color change in the sandstones containing them. The uranium was depositing where the environment was changing from oxidizing to reducing. This became the basis for much of the exploration during what was called the uranium boom. Eventually, it was found that the largest and richest deposits in the world were at the greatest oxidation/reduction boundary, that which happened 2.5 billion years ago, when the atmosphere changed from reducing to oxidizing, a likeness that probably wasn’t recognized until after many of these large deposits had been found.
The first hidden likeness shown to me allowed us to draw circles on a map of Wyoming, circles around areas which could be targets. The first one we drilled became a new mining district. That determined my career: not the mining district, but the emotion of the hidden likeness. It may have been among the very first signs that mineral deposits could be found without surface evidence.
What has this to do with poetry or art? Robert Frost speaks of likeness and analogy as metaphor. In his poem “The Silken Tent” where does the likeness of a woman to a silken tent come from? It had to come from “somewhere,” suddenly, by chance. There is no list of things a woman is like that would include “silken tent.”
The Silken Tent
She is as in a field a silken tent At midday when the sunny summer breeze Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent, So that in guys it gently sways at ease, And its supporting central cedar pole, That is its pinnacle to heavenward And signifies the sureness of the soul, Seems to owe naught to any single cord, But strictly held by none, is loosely bound By countless silken ties of love and thought To every thing on earth the compass round, And only by one’s going slightly taut In the capriciousness of summer air Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.
Michelangelo said ―
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
What Tracy Found
Just looking at the clay how did she know? Did something call her by her name or sing? Some hidden being waiting there below The smooth and wordless surface of the thing, To be brought back, to be alive again? Some hidden likeness to some thing she knew, Some vision of her past, someone she’d been, Some truth? It was as if she had seen through A mirror to a secret world behind And by a sleight of hand made that world be, A New World with its treasure still to find, And so she saw where no one else could see And moving all the covering dross away Found Aphrodite in a block of clay.
The memory wing at the care center is a place of discovery
Here is a haiku.
Sounds stop to listen. Music asks the stars for help When Yoshiko cries.
If Time should come and steal my memories, If you look in my eyes and cannot see, If something takes away my yesterdays, Play these my songs and know you’re hearing me.
And if by chance I hear the melodies The faithful sun may now and then break through And I will feel the warmth that used to be And in remembered song, remember you.
(Author plays ‘Somewhere My Love’ on harmonica)
Where did that song come from? Do we have to have seen Dr. Zhivago to know it is a love song? Where does music come from? Two nights ago I was at a street festival in Cedaredge. A little thirteen-month-old girl was dancing in time to the music. Barely able to walk but keeping time to the music. What is hidden inside us to make that possible? Frost said a poem is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found its words. Music must be even deeper: when sound has found its emotion.
A Poet’s Prayer
Somewhere — I know — there is a sacred chest That holds the scattered notes that are a song Discovery attends on every quest, Alexis said. God grant he was not wrong.
What first brush stroke, first blow of the chisel into the marble, first working of the clay, first notes of a song or words of a poem might be the “explosion of a hidden likeness”? Had I not had the opportunity to look for uranium deposits or gold deposits or the like, I might never have encountered that phenomenon; and the feeling of “the heart missing a beat,” in science and in poetry.
I know of no poem that shows the discovery of a hidden likeness better than this one by Verity Martin, my Verity. She called it Petal Fall. She had to know something about apple trees to know they sometimes blossom in the fall if under stress. And she had to know something about an old woman. And love. But to put them all together!
That autumn the old apple tree split by storms, gnarled and twisted, only half its limbs alive and leafy, blossomed, blossomed in a fairy froth.
In my mirror, an old woman bears the mark of passing storms, of passing seasons, but as you enter the door, at the sound of your voice, a shower of petals falls softly.
And last, for Margaret, my partner in discovery, in America and Australia, in science and in poetry, part of a poem by the Australian poet, Henry Lawson.
The night too quickly passes And we are growing old, So let us fill our glasses And toast the Days of Gold; When finds of wondrous treasure Set all the South ablaze, And you and I were faithful mates All through the roaring days!
References in Discovery
Science and Human Values, pub. Hutchinson of London, 1961
The frontispiece is The Lady with an Ermine, by DaVinci. It was stolen by the Nazis during World War II and recovered at the end of the war by American soldiers.
The “day of days” quote is from “Fate” in “The Conduct of Life.”
The Poetry of Robert Frost, pub. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969
Robert Frost Poetry and Prose, pub. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973, esp. “Education by Poetry”
The Lawson poem is “The Roaring Days” and appears in many anthologies including “The Wide Brown Land,” Mackeness and Mackeness, pub. Angus and Robertson, 1934
Martin, Verity J.
Voices of a Dust Devil, 2012, unpublished
In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), particularly Volume 1, Swann’s Way, and Volume 6, Time Regained
Facing Up, pub. Harvard University Press, 2001
Creativity and Intuition, pub. Kodansha International LTD, 1973