The real challenge of poetry is to evoke more than the four dimensions we’re used to, the inner as well as the outer, as Homer does brilliantly when he has Apollo strike Patroclus from behind in the thick of battle just when Patroclus thinks it’s all going his way and he’s cockahoop with success. Apollo here is the form consciousness takes with the appalled realisation that you’ve finally gone too far, overstepped all prudent limits and rendered yourself completely exposed. Apollo adds another dimension to the spectacle of Patroclus’s death, a much more inward dimension. “Inscape”, in fact, would be a very good word for it.
String-theorists have speculated that ‘in the beginning’ the universe had 10 (or was it 11?) dimensions which split into 4 and 6 dimensions, the first becoming the 4 dimensions we know as space-time, while the other 6 curled up into infinitesimally small points and disappeared from our view. There may be more dimensions, of course, since my physics is poor and my mathematics even worse than poor, so don’t ask me to prove it, or tell you how it actually works. One thing I’m certain of, though, is that the 4D universe we daily inhabit is one which is completely external to us. We live in it, have to function in it, acquire some kind of mental map or image of it, if we’re to survive in it; in this sense we internalise it, but this internalisation is not of our essence. We know this universe consists of 3 spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension. Kant said that time is an internal intuition separate from the external intuition of space. But he was wrong. The internal intuition is that of duration, not time. Time is a function of the movement of objects through space; it is reckoned in years, millennia, nano-seconds, minutes, days, you name it. There is nothing internal about any of these, which is why Einstein was right to rope them all together into a bundle called space-time, adding that gravity was no more than a property of the curvature of this space-time, an aspect of its geometry.
David Bohm has shown us a way we might think of a higher-dimensional world. Think of a fish swimming in a tank with two cameras focused on it wired to two television sets, which we are watching. One of the cameras is pointed at the fish from the side of the tank and the other is pointed at the fish from the end of the tank. On the tv screens we see two fishes each swimming around in two-dimensional space and we think we are looking at two different fishes. But, if you’ll forgive the appalling pun, don’t we also think it’s a little bit fishy that, every time one fish turns, the other one turns in exactly the same instant, even though they turn in different directions? (I actually saw some fish doing this at the Brighton Aquarium, 20 or 30 of them, all turning together, as if they’d been drilled. The friend I was with called them Adolph Hitler fish!) Clearly it is an uncanny property of this 2D universe (or 3D universe, if you include time, which you must, I suppose) that everything happens in duplicate. If we live in this 2-D world, we obviously won’t know how to explain it; it will be seen as a miracle and that is the end of the matter. (Religion 1, Science 0.) However, if we take the viewer into the room where the fish is being filmed, it becomes immediately apparent that in a 4D universe there is nothing miraculous about it. (Religion 0, Science 1.) Some physicists believe that it is only by taking into account more dimensions than the four of space-time that many of the anomalies (miracles?) of our universe can be fully explained.
All well and good, I hear myself saying. But where do I fit into this higher-dimensional picture? And where does my consciousness of space-time fit into space-time itself, if at all? Does it belong to the same continuum? Or to one of those 6 other dimensions which broke off from our 4D universe and curled up inside it ‘in the beginning’? Furthermore, how does this 4D universe organise itself into atoms and molecules and organisms and higher life-forms and human-beings in human societies - for organize itself it seems to? Perhaps it really is a question of the chance mechanical interactions of bits and pieces in a purely 4D continuum. But I don’t believe it. So what does underly this principle of self-organisation we find in the world around us - from the simple to the relatively complex? I’m going to stick my neck out and hazard that the answer lies in one of these other 6 dimensions which broke off from this 4D world ‘in the beginning’. I do not think we will find the essence of ourselves by looking for it in a laboratory, but in this other dimension consciousness occupies, a dimension which can no more be seen from outside than the panic, fear and pain of the zebra being killed by the lion can be seen by the camera-clicking tourist on safari.
Which brings us back to Apollo, thumping poor old Patroclus on the back and causing him to ‘lose it’ at last. Apollo came out of the blue to do this, as least as far as Patroclus was concerned. He came from behind when least expected. Perhaps he came from that other dimension, entering these four dimensions through a hole so small no one could see him. Where do thoughts come from? If we could answer that to our satisfaction, we’d know where gods came from as well.
But I’ll tell you where thoughts come from, Mr. Smarty-Pants says, They come from other thoughts, which, of course, begs a very big question. Where did the first thought come from? That’s called an infinite regress in the philosophy trade. Perhaps the ‘first thought’ came out of that other dimension, which stretches back for ever and ever incubating all thoughts. And why not? Time is a purely external dimension and what we have here is something internal, something enfolded, not part of this space-time continuum. So why should it not transcend the dimension of time and stretch back for ever and ever. And why should not this extra dimension be where we hail from as well, not just in the sense of ‘in the beginning’, but every day of the week.
Of course, not all thoughts proceed logically from immediately previous thoughts. Like electrons, thoughts ‘jump’. And sometimes a previous thought stimulates a process which stretches back in time long before the thought before the previous thought, to couple with a more remote thought and produce a whole new series of thoughts as its progeny. Logical thought, that is to say thought in which thoughts are contiguous with one another and follow each other in an ordered sequence, is as prosaic as cause and effect events which occur in 4D space-time.
As for ‘science’, Zbigniew Herbert once wrote a prose-poem called Wooden Die. “A wooden die can be described only from without. We are therefore condemned to eternal ignorance of its essence. Even if it is quickly cut in two, immediately its inside becomes a wall and there occurs the lightning swift transformation of a mystery into a skin.” David Peat in his book, Blackfoot Physics, says “Western science is a triumph of understanding the surfaces of things. The prehensile power of the eye, hand and mind gives us the sense of reaching to the inner sense of things by breaking them apart, dissecting the parts, exposing ever smaller entities and ever more detailed surfaces.” It seems that Herbert and Peat have both sussed out the ultimate futility of the scientific quest for a knowledge based on the assumption that you can reach the truth behind observed surfaces by reducing those surfaces to other observed surfaces. This notion, however, is only intelligible if you take a four-dimensional universe at face value. I call it prosaic because it leaves no place for the power of the imagination in attempting to get inside the essence of things. The external eye and the understanding are all that are important in this kind of ‘science’; it has no place for the inner eye or any notion of inscape.
In his book, Wholeness And The Implicate Order, David Bohm speaks of the Enfolded and Unfolded Orders. A poem in its essence and truth belongs not to the Unfolded but the Enfolded Order. In fact, all consciousness is rooted in the Enfolded Order, unfolding as thoughts, images, feelings, emotions and so on. Science, which deals largely with external ‘objective’ phenomena, is oriented towards the Unfolded Order. Poetry towards the Enfolded Order. Perhaps that’s why poetry and science occupy two different realms. Poetry places us in a universe where rocks and trees are conscious. They needn’t be conscious in the sense that we are conscious and we don’t need to adopt an anthropomorphic attitude towards them, but the same enfolded ‘spirit’ underlies their own being in the world as our own.
Some things are more enfolded than others. Some people will never ‘get poetry’ because of the complexity of its enfoldedness. This has nothing to do with intellect or I.Q., simply receptivity and imagination. An ex-flat-mate of mine had an I.Q. of 180 but was a philistine nevertheless. Although he was a ‘scientist’, his scientific culture extended no further than his specialist field. As for poetry, don’t even go there. So we are not talking of intellect or the understanding here, which is largely oriented towards the unfolded aspects of the world. We are talking of the way we imaginatively encounter the world, which extends to our whole way of being in the world - or should I say, of the world’s being in us? This is not a world made abstract like the one science constructs. Each moment of the world’s being in us is unique, and art has a special relationship with that uniqueness which science doesn’t have. In science, repetition and reproducibility of experiments to get the same results is essential, and only possible because it deals with things which people can shift around like draughts on a draughts-board in a 4D world which is abstract and manipulable in that way. On the other hand, once a poet passes up an opportunity to write the poem that is in him or her to write at that particular moment, that poem is lost for ever. In poetry, unlike science, there really is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow - or the writing of a poem. And that is the case because it unfolds out of what was previously enfolded.
I am rereading Robert Graves’s The White Goddess a book whose main argument I don’t go along with. Graves seems to be arguing that myth has a primary status in poetry and is essential to the ‘grammar’ of poetry he is trying establish. To me he seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Myth is a product of what, for the want a better expression, I will call the ‘poetic faculty’. The poetic faculty does not derive from myth but the other way round. When poets use myth, they do so in response not to the myth itself, but to the poetic content within the myth, and for that reason, they are not constrained to be ‘true’ to the myth when they adapt it to their own poetic needs. Myths are not part of what Chomsky might call the “deep grammar” of poetry, as Graves believed. An already formed myth is something outside of us. It is there in the world, like a tree or a house. Poetry, on the other hand, comes from inside of us, emerging from another dimension entirely. Of course, it encounters myths, along with houses and trees, and adapts them to its own purposes. But in that encounter, it is primary - the myth, the tree, the house is secondary. They belong to a realm akin to the 4D world which we daily inhabit and take for granted.
I had this argument with a friend fairly recently. I argued that the poet no more chooses the form of a poem, than a molecule chooses its own particular form. The form arrives with the poem, and the content itself is decisive in determining the form - and the form the content. So the form does not depend on a conscious choice prior to the act of writing. One does not say, for example, “Now I am going to write a sonnet. What shall I say in it?” because what you can say, and the way that you say it emerge simultaneously. It is a unified act, whose origins lie in a kind of preconscious orientation towards what you say and how you say it together. The two do not arrive separately but as two aspects of a bundle. And if indeed, as I have suggested, poetry’s origins lie in that higher-dimensional realm, then this is inevitable. Likewise, it’s not one’s intentions in writing that count in the end, but the end-product of the poem you have written, which may be very different from the one you intended. To claim that one’s prior intentions are decisive is to make the mistake of those who believe that our thoughts are intentional. After all, if our thoughts were completely intentional, we’d have to think them before we thought them. The same with poetry. It just emerges in that way. This, of course, makes it a dangerous activity, for anything which just emerges in that way can’t be controlled. Which brings us, by a rather circuitous route, back to our safe 4D prosaic reality and “things which people can shift around like draughts on a draughts-board.” to suit their own ends. Now that’s a reality which can be controlled.
It wasn’t so long ago that a biologist by the name of Rupert Sheldrake came along and, borrowing some of his language from Chaos and Complexity Theory, started to talk of things like “strange-attractors”, “attractor-basins and “chreodes” in relation to biology. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he also threw in some terms of his own invention, such as “morphic-fields” and “morphic-resonances”. He has been jumped on by the scientific establishment ever since. Nowadays, no one speaks of Sheldrake anymore, except to sneer when his name happens to come up. It’s like a lot of poets I think who get air-brushed out of the picture because they write in a different way from the mainstream or treat of a different subject-matter which hasn’t yet been integrated by that self-same mainstream. Personally, I don’t know if Sheldrake is right or wrong, but I do like the idea of morphic-fields and morphic-resonances which, taken out of their biological context, are suggestive to me as a poet. For when I think of how a poem comes into existence, I see that all is not as it might seem to outsiders. When I write a poem I am not making conscious decisions as to how I will write it; instead I find myself ‘falling into’ that pattern of writing – whatever it is – in a willy-nilly way. It is as if the major work of writing the poem was done before I even set pen to paper and I am just adding the finishing touches. I suppose Michelangelo was getting at something like this when he said that the sculpture was already inside the block of marble before he even started to chisel. For me there is no greater ‘proof’ that we inhabit more dimensions than the four we normally encounter in life and that the ‘higher’ dimensions cannot be approached through the four external dimensions. They are ‘curled up’ inside them, inaccessible to those who do not take an inward approach to them.