Thought, the vision of the inner eye,
Peers behind the mask of mundane view
A choosing of the best of what comes by
Not the monsters on the Daily News
Thought to me is vision without words;
Needs silent presentation and review.
The words translate the images that surge
Then fall back to the ocean where they grew.
Like coloured visions of the deep sea bed
Where fishes reel and dance, where life is new.
What we mean with difficulty’s said
Yet evocation summons it to view.
Let my words evoke my love of you;
And answer me with many kisses new.
Can lyric think? I want to work towards this question of poetics by way of a related one in philosophy, whose crispest articulation I’ve yet found swims up in the course of a long, fragmentary lyric by Denise Riley: ‘It is called feeling but is its real name thought?’ This line from ‘A Shortened Set’ unpicks the traditional opposition between thought and feeling, which holds that immersion in one diminishes or even precludes the other. In terms of poetic history it’s a notion we might associate with the Romantics – recall Keats’s jibe at ‘consequitive reasoning’ – though they simply revived a still older view of reason and emotion as fundamentally at odds. As Riley the philosopher is aware, this internal division within the psyche was also traditionally a gendered distinction. Along with feeling, mental operations such as intuition and belief aren’t usually granted the status of thinking. Yet it’s these hinterlands of thought that have the most to tell us about contemporary poetry and its relationship to consciousness. I want to touch on two poets whose work offers us, in very different ways, a picture of thinking in action – what Wallace Stevens called ‘The poem of the act of the mind.’