Poetry and Emotion

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Michael Heizer, Collapse

Michael Heizer, Collapse

In bed asleep, while they do dream things true



April here in the US is National Poetry Month. It is also in the same month that Shakespeare was born and died. There are writers and artists, poets and philosophers, civil rights activists, and scientists whose words inspire me. I am blown away by the depth of insight they demonstrate and can’t help but want to bring my own perspective.  Through time and space, they are the kindred spirits who haunt my memory. My words are neither to the level of Baudelaire's nor to those by Shakespeare. They are neither poetry nor literature. They are pieces, fragments of thought, breadcrumbs on a trail, sparks of faint light guiding my steps, voices in my head. “Poetry,” Carlo Rovelli writes, “is another science’s deepest roots: the capacity to see beyond the visible” (1). I dreamt a dream in which there were more things in the Universe than seen in reality and conceived mentally



As some were inclined to do, I think of the Universe in a more abstract sense as if it were a product of our collective consciousness, as if it were only a dream on which the others are grafted. On a stage where dreams and reality mix, in a landscape made in the likeness of the Universe, I once imagined that black holes are memory loss, white holes are sources of bursting ideas, and nebulae are state of mental confusion that precedes clarity.  Heaping dream on dream, I wonder today where I can find the heart of the Universe,  the seat of its emotions, the depository of its soul. If I could uncover it, it sure would take me to the source of consciousness. 


Can one truly fathom the underpinning of the Universe, find the key to its workings, and solve the mystery of its evolution without emotion? Can Reason be the only one to explain its riddles? The flow of consciousness made of image and narrative is said to be embodied in poetry. A poet who ventures to say that reality is another kind of dream which we are utterly unaware of will not hesitate to go on this quest. Poets hear a different drummer. They are the channel through which the voice of the Universe can be heard. Following the path laid before me, from stuff dreams are made on to “star stuff” we are made of, stars are dreams and the heart of the Universe is an abstract concept with feeling attached. 


Indeed, if, as C.K. Williams writes, even the most abstract idea has a sort of feeling attached to it, and without that feeling, an idea has no resonance for us, no meaning, there can not be a universe without emotion. Our mind does not fully differentiate between emotion and reason. An observer looking over the Universe would experience an emotional reaction that may trigger an internal dialogue ruled by feelings and cognitive processes.  These emotions carry with them a steady stream of information that our brain dissects, digests, and renders analytically.


A scientist might understand the poet’s wish to find the heart of the Universe more literally as to locate a particular place and would respond without a doubt that there is no center in the Universe despite what some may have claimed until not too long ago that the Earth was the center. Yet, the abstract concept that I am talking about here isn’t located in any physical place. The heart of the Universe is what, I feel, Carlo Rovelli alluded to as the emotion of time in relation to us.


The emotion of time stirs the soul of the Universe, driving it forward. It grows, expands, becomes heavy,  goes up and down the spatial and gravitational scales. For us, emotions are patterns of instinctive behavior with a biological basis. For the Universe, they are basic mechanisms that give tints of light and hues of color to nebulae clouds, planetary soils, skies and oceans, feathers of birds. Fibers that make the fabric of the Universe become torn,  rushed through by the emotion of time, caught in the grip of existential anguish, the kind that I can’t help but think leaves a diffuse sense of “nobodyness” (2).

Double Negative Artwork

There is no object so foul,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes,” that intense light will not make beautiful. And the stimulus it affords to the sense, and a sort of infinitude which it hath, like space and time, make all matter gay”. The emotion of time incites the Universe the will to persevere. It is a stimulus that brings to being its own physical sensations.  It may not manifest the way human emotions do when we hunch our back, cross our arms,  arch our brows, raise our cheeks, wrinkle our nose bridge, press our lips, bulge our eyes. Its effects may be widespread and vary locally over the Universe.  


The emotion of time generates a surface agitation when a cosmic ray particle collides with a dust grain. Molecular chemistry occurs when cosmic rays interact with Earth’s atmosphere and planetary surface, consequently producing a cascade of secondary particles. It pops up to the surface of the Sun, where magnetic fields create dark-colored will-o'-the-wisps in plasma and energy flows. It generates cells’ growth on a planet’s surface. It stirs up upheavals from the depths of the Universe when powerful jets of ionized matter are spewed out by a supermassive black hole as if the original soul of the Universe were making a comeback. It produces multifaceted and widespread ripple effects through a network of invisible conduits that make its reappearance sudden in the fabric of the Universe as if it were dropped right there in the shape of events.


Concepts, words, and emotions blend together in my head. Henri Bergson talked about two kinds of emotion: one that generates and the other that is generated. The emotion of time, I believe, is both, one and the same. Although I am still uncertain what exactly generates it, I wonder whether primordial feelings motivated the Universe to act as a resonance chamber for the emotion of time. Who knows what reality would be like without the shadow of time cluttering our consciousness. The emotion of time, clumsy, awkward, is stuck in between, in the interactions we have with the Universe, at the helm of our fate.



Michael Heizer, Compression Line

Michael Heizer, Compression Line

It is not a speaking soul that the poet prides herself to possess but a listening soul that wishes to invite those who desire to listen to the turbulent emotions of the Universe, the pulsation of its heart, the murmur of its soul. Whether they be young Pascal, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Heizer, King, I wish they get it now and follow in the footsteps of the artist in the city of Kouroo.


There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stock in all respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferrule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?

(Henry David Thoreau, Walden)



(1) Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

(2) Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?

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