There is no substitute for that moment when a book places into our mind thoughts we recognise as our own. For those who carry a pencil, this is the thing we underline. The identification is instant and intimate. If the sentence is long enough, the sensation can even overtake us while we are still in the process of reading the thought that summoned it. These notions spring from a mind similar to ours, except this mind has read books that we have not, has known experiences we lack, has relentlessly stripped away its banalities until this apt remark remains. We admire those who create these thoughts, even as we secretly believe that we might have been the ones to write them first had we lived differently. These discoveries come over us with the force of a reclaimed memory: life momentarily regains a sense of potential. We feel awe, gratitude, and magnification.
Just the other day I encountered such a line in the poet Mary Ruefle’s essay ‘Madness, Rack, and Honey’: she calls on Mary Oppen to describe this very experience, and Oppen herself calls on Heidegger to help her do so. ‘When Heidegger speaks of boredom,’ quotes Ruefle from Oppen, ‘he allies it very closely with that moment of awe in which one’s mind begins to reach beyond. And that is a poetic moment, a moment in which a poem might well have been written.’ In which one’s mind begins to reach beyond – that is precisely it. Our senses are momentarily augmented. Things heretofore imperceptible emerge into existence. An essential few phrases become the focus of our thoughts, and if we can, we scribble them down immediately. Irrepeatable once they have been lost, they carry within them a full poem.