Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let the Magnetic Needle Swing

It seems to make small difference whether a man say that such as phrase or formula is the truth, or that the phrase or formula refers to a truth. Yet on this difference rests his mind's whole relation to life. The first statement ties him; the second lets [sets?] him free; the first shuts windows, the second opens them; the first makes him proud, the second, humble; the first separates him from human history, the second unites him with it. For all human thought is indeterminate, and can, at best, do no more than point in the direction of the truth, trembling and oscillating like the magnetic needle under the current that swings it. If you fix the pointer in any position it will lie. The scientist and the theologian nail down the needle: the poet and the prophet let it swing.

— John Jay Chapman, Letters and Religion, 1924, 84–85.

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