Entering the ever flowing stream (3)

bp Nichol, Dewey, Dillard, Emerson, William James, writing -

Entering the ever flowing stream (3)

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3. Entering the ever flowing stream

John Dewey emphasizes that:

Statement sets forth the conditions under which experience of an object or situation may be had.  It is a good, that is, effective, statement in the degree in which these conditions are stated in such a way that they can be used as directions by which one may arrive at the experience (88).

If we take this assertion together with Dewey’s observation that a poem, picture or work of art “present material passed through the alembic of personal experience” (86) the examination of the word where and its invocation of presence in any place (in the previous post) is effective to the degree that any reader, anywhere at any time arrives at an experience (a shock at presence) that interfaces or connects with “their own experience of the world” (86) wherever that reader may read. If true, then the degree to which we share meaning may never be truly known.

How do we, then, in Dewey, ever know if meaning can be arrived upon?

William James’ statement about consciousness set forth in the imagery of a stream helps us here. James employs the metaphor to define the processes of thought.  Like an ever flowing stream, “[w]hen the rate is slow we are aware of the object of our thought in a comparatively restful and stable way” (243).

This practice to turn our thoughts to our way of thought, just as Emerson and Dillard carefully observe nature, yields rewards in the same way a gold miner finds nuggets when panning for gold. For,

[t]here is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading or other relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought (245).

However, by habit, we often overlook the relations between objects, markers of meaning in the syntax and inflection of speech, “recognizing the existence of the substantive parts alone” (246) with language.  Like the wood-cutter we do not see the forest for the stick of timber; language loses that “property in the horizon” (9) of which Emerson speaks. “We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but” James urges, “quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold” (245-46).

bp Nichol enacts what James describes as the “evanescent sense of something which is the initial vowel or consonant” (252) and jolts our perception in his Martyrology. He also employs the imagery of water to explore the sense of sanctity inherent to language, the “flood of feeling / when the / river / overflows its banks” (lines 7-9, 207). A collision of syllables puts the language at play.  The reverberation of flood waters as the narrator loses his mother and father creates an “ech-eau” (lines 21-22):


no fodder now….

flood was the word i learned

& rain & river, water

drove me out of my world


into another (lines 9-20).

Words he has known since childhood are turned over and recreated as the flood waters rush against him. The power of the stream of thought churns up mudder and fodder, forcing new meaning into his consciousness, words that drive out familiar word-relations.

Mother and father are no more and the narrator cannot know them as he knew them before. In every echo, with the narrator, we are now connected to water. 

Emerson observes nature with the lidless eye and is drawn into the current of the Universal Being. 

Dillard’s narrator turns her eye to the intricacy of the natural world and is caught up in a cosmological force.

Nichol learns the word flood anew, and it startles and turns over the notion of family and therefore our familiarity with language. 

All are drenched with new and surprising meanings. Language is a force not only of movement but of depth too:

the trick is to know the depth always
& that the surface'll get you there

the flood'll bring the bottom to the top (lines 41-43, 208).


Full Works Cited 


The series “Finding Grace with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friends” is adapted from my work in Dr. Kate Stanley’s wonderful course on Pragmatism and the American Aesthetic at Western University and is an exercise in finding grace in life and language.


About Andrew Kooman: Andrew is a Canadian writer and producer. His work has been published and viewed around the world and translated into more than 10 languages. Andrew strives to tell powerful stories that make real-world impact.  { Learn More }


Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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