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‘Mind’ by Richard Wilbur


Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.

I got up this morning wondering about Wittgenstein’s idea that if a lion could speak we couldn’t understand him. This makes sense because, sometimes, when humans speak my own language I can’t understand them either. It seems that Wittgenstein meant we could not begin to conceive of a lion’s experience of life and the older I get, the harder it is to conceive of another human’s experience of life, unless it is a sort of metaphysical understanding – something beyond words. I wonder if I could apply that to a lion, despite Wittgenstein.

Thus, you will see that Richard Wilbur’s poem gave me some small clarity for the day; although I did wonder if language, rather than the mind, was more like a bat. I do not believe all thought is language-based…which brings me to another of Wittgenstein’s ideas which was that language is the cage whose walls we keep climbing. Whichsoever, the cave is dark enough for silent contemplation.