“My mind to me a kingdom is;”*

*published in 1588 in William Byrd’s Psalmes, Sonets, & Songs.

A.S. Byatt wrote in The Guardian of 14 Feb 2004:

“…Frank Kermode, working on fin-de-siècle imagery, wrote in The Romantic Image (1957) of our imagined nostalgia for “the body that thought, not deputing that function to a Cartesian mind”. It was Christopher Ricks who understood just how wrong Eliot had been about Tennyson – he showed how, most particularly in In Memoriam, Tennyson had used his images precisely to feel his thoughts about death, mortality, the finite body decaying in dust and mould – and beyond that the relation of these things to the doubts about the human body and mind raised by the ideas about evolution, and men as simply animals, which preceded Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species. The 17th-century poets lived in a world where doubt was still seen in terms of the structures of faith, and stories were seen in the light of the Story of the Bible. It is the quality of the doubt of Tennyson and Browning that is intense and lively – and their stories and language are informed by the fear that we are no more than mortal bodies, and questions about what that idea does to our ethics. Tennyson thinks with his images. His images are his thoughts. His sensibility is his mind…

My own writing and thinking have been much influenced by Sir Charles Sherrington’s metaphors for mind and brain. Sherrington, who shared the Nobel Prize for physiology in 1932, was the first to study the synapses, and invented the term. (A synapse is the junction of two nerve-cells.) Most people know his description of the waking brain (the “head-mass”) as “an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one…

I love it too because it gives me a way of imagining my own mind-body (however finite and mortal), that is complex and beautiful. Sherrington was engaging about the incapacity of natural science to say anything at all about the relations of thoughts and the brain – “except as a gross correlation in time and space. In some ways this is embarrassing for biology.”…”

From Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act II. Scene II):

Hamlet: …I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though, by your smiling, you seem to say so.

Rosencrantz: My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.

Hamlet: Why did you laugh then, when I said, ‘man delights not me?’”

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