22 December 2009


GW - I am the eye with which the Universe...


I am the eye with which the Universe
   Beholds itself and knows itself divine
All harmony or instrument or verse,
   All prophecy, all medicine is mine
All light of art or nature; -- to my song
Victory and praise in its own right belong.

       - Shelley, "Hymn of Apollo"

In a way, this extends the foregoing saying, except that Shelley was a lot earlier, albeit it that he formulates a point of view and a verbal confusion or coincidence - my I is the inner eye with which I see myself - that many have had, except that he does it better, or at least more memorably than most.

The above I first read - I think - in 1985, when I bought Harold Bloom's "The selected poetry and prose of Shelley", that has several merits, such as a good introduction, a good format, and the inclusion of two fine pieces of prose by Shelley, namely "On a Future State", that is on my site with my comments as you can find by clicking the link, and "A Defense of Poetry", that should be on my site with my comments - and that may be in this series GW.

As to the above: In my 1985 copy there is a note by be to the above, probably from that year: "Except for "divine" I said the same", and indeed I did - although I do grant to Shelley, who must have been an exceedingly intelligent man, that by far the best candidate for divinity is the universe itself.

However... it seems to me the miracle is yet greater than a divine universe: A largely dead, unconscious, unfeeling, unthinking universe, in which only very tiny bits may be conscious, feeling and thinking.

Note on literature and background:

My reference is to Harold Bloom: "The selected poetry and prose of Shelley" (a.k.a. Percy Bysshe Shelly - "Selected Poetry") in Signet Classics, First Printing 1966 (too old for ISBNs, probably only recoverable from some university library).

And indeed quite a few more were independently struck by ideas involving the I and the eye. Two interesting references are Hofstadter & Dennett's "The mind's I" (quite a few interesting essays from different backgrounds about the subject) and Misner, Thorne & Wheeler's "Gravitation", that is about the physics of the subject in the title, but contains quite a few - often drawn - references to the conscious Is that are seeing, reconstructing and theorizing about the universe in which they find themselves as tiny ephemeral specks of almost nothing, spatially and temporally speaking at least.

Maarten Maartensz

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