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. Reading Keats’ “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 in mineral exploration, and this makes me think that the moment of discovery in the arts and in science is the same.
On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
— John Keats