Mens Temporum . UK

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An isolated incident - April 2016

These coincidences seem to be such a regular aspect of my life that perhaps there is no reason to continue recording them except for their entertainment value, so here is one in isolation as a change from the rat’s nest of connected events previously mentioned.

On the weekend of the 23rd April this year I was contemplating writing an email to my literary friend in America. He is an expert on Shakespeare and I had things to tell him about events here in the UK connected with the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. However, I postponed doing that and instead took it into my mind to write a poem to post in the online writers’ forum to which I subscribe. I posted the result below there on that day.


Tilting at Windmills

I thought I’d write a little verse,
It might be good but could be worse,
But inspiration didn’t last,
The opportunity had passed,
I don’t suppose it matters much
When what I write is double Dutch,
I may as well give up the fight
To reach this intellectual height,
I’ll leave the task in better hands
And use my skill in nether lands.

It only took me a couple of minutes to write this, which seemed strange as I have only ever written a handful of poems and this one seemed flawless, at least to me. In fact I was praised by other far more experienced poets in the forum for it, which confirmed my belief. It was clearly inspired by nothing but a spontaneous urge to write it followed rapidly by a feeling that I was not capable of the task. Under the circumstances the fact that the rhythm, rhyme and economical use of words were all spot on surprised me, given how little effort I had put into writing it. I continued to wonder about that, reading it through over and over, trying to find ways of improving it, but I couldn’t see any.

The day following being Sunday, my wife and I spent it doing things together as is our custom, so I didn’t return to my personal pursuits until Monday. Before I could fulfil my intention to write to my friend in America on that day I received an email from him. Unsurprisingly he wrote about the Bard’s 400th anniversary, but added something else that was a surprise. He mentioned that the Spanish were upset that in all the celebrations of that anniversary the fact that it was also 400 years since Cervantes died had been overlooked. All I knew about Cervantes was that he wrote Don Quixote, from which comes the expression “tilting at windmills”. I had never read the book but had seen the musical film based on it and certainly had no idea of when the writer had lived, let alone of any anniversary connected with him. Also my friend is a lecturer in English literature, so I had no reason to make any connection between him and Cervantes when I wrote that poem. I did some rapid research into Cervantes and discovered that he is considered to have been a key person in establishing the style of the modern novel. In fact Don Quixote was his way of encouraging readers to abandon the romantic stories from earlier times and focus on the more practical ones depicted by modern novels. Despite this warning within Don Quixote about being influenced by romantic notions I decided to re-examine my poem from the viewpoint of my own romantic notions about precognition.

The poem certainly had the same characteristics as my novel, being apparently spawned by a free will thought rather than prior events, created without the effort that one might expect, containing apparently pointless references and ultimately having a coincidental connection with a future event. It even contained references to the Netherlands as the novel did, but these were clearly not contrived, being absolutely essential to its structure, although I was aware that the so-called “windmills” in the Netherlands were primarily windpumps used to manage water levels on those former Frisian marshes.

While the first four lines emphasise the fleeting nature of the intention to write it, the last six suggested something else to me. Unable to perceive how I could have compiled it consciously, I thought about the possibility of it having been produced subconsciously. Certainly the subconscious thoughts which inspired my novel writing could be classed as double Dutch, so perhaps I should regard the writer, the “I” in the poem, as my subconscious mind. Consciously I had associated the last four lines with my wish to leave the writing of poetry to the more experienced people in that forum, but taking this different view the words read differently. The “intellectual height” could be a reference to conscious thought while the “nether lands”, nether meaning “lower”, could refer to the subconscious mind. Just as with the novel I have two quite acceptable explanations for what I wrote but one, the more conventional one, requires there to have been an impromptu act followed by a pure coincidence while the other is entirely deterministic albeit with a temporal discrepancy.

Scientists claim that everything happens for a reason while psychologists tell us not to seek a reason for everything that happens. There are obviously scientists and psychologists who know much more than me about such things, but as a sceptic I must wonder whether they know enough yet. I cannot say that I am convinced about my suspicions regarding precognition but, faced with the opportunity presented by that message from my friend in America, I think I would try to do something to convince myself a little more, as I apparently did. It may ultimately prove fruitless as the poem admits, but that is the nature of quantum communication as I understand it. On balance I think I must adhere to the statement that I made on the opening page of this website, that all our minds wander from time to time — possibly.

Rob Sanders

June 2016