Man on seat by lake meditating, flowers in foreground.

Captured by Thought

"Tennyson and Browning are poets, and they think; but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose. A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility."

T. S. Eliot (1921)

The distinction between thought and sensation is venerable, largely made so for us by Hume’s base line contrast of the strength of sensations with the more shadowy nature of thoughts. Sitting in quiet reflection our monkey minds jump to ever new delights and we turn in contrast to sensations for rest. We can treat the air in our nostrils as arising, we attend, and we let it pass; it is much harder to grant thoughts this transitoriness, rather they seem to jump us from behind, pick us up, and sweep us along with them. If Eliot is right, writers prior to Hume might treat a rising thought exactly as the odour of a rose, allowing it to strut on the stage of our perceptions; neither entangling nor capturing us.

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The image was taken beside Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hà Nội. The quote is from from Eliot’s review, in the Times Literary Supplement 20 October 1921, of Grierson’s book ‘Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century’. His assertion has led to the theory known as 'Dissociation' in poetry. David Hume in 1739 commences his great work with: "All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call 'Impressions' and 'Ideas'. The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness with which they strike upon the mind and make their way into our thoughts or consciousness...under [impressions] I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions....By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning..." (A Treatise of Human Nature, p.1)

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Saturday 18th
May 2019

Murphy on duty

Details of the
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