Notes to Poem:

"The Mystery Dream"

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: This poem was inspired by Professor Robert Bird's lecture "Stalker's Dream: Mediation & Violence in the Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky" at Stanford University Symposium: "The Descent of Grace" on May 15, 2009 during the afternoon session (1:30-2:00 pm). Professor Bird (University of Chicago) showed a clip from Tarkovsky's 1979 science fiction film Stalker. The clip began with a dust storm in a desolated landscape followed by a man on the ground with eyes open as if he's dead. The next scene shows him with eyes closed and the camera pans slowly across a river with flotsam of dirt and debris. When a piece of paper with "28" on it floated in the waters by a rusty coil, I wondered whether the director placed it there on purpose. Since 28 is a perfect number and associated with cosmic and life forces, I tried to balance these positive images with the desolate scenes shown in the film. Recalling Blake's 28th Lark as the Angel of Inspiration lifted this film to the heavenly realms in tune with the symposium's title "The Descent of Grace".

Commentary on "The Mystery Dream"

A man sleeps at the edge of the woods
with flotsam of dirt and debris in the pond.

The Dream Sequence of Tarkovsky's 1979 science fiction film Stalker begins with a dust storm in a desolated landscape followed by a man sleeping near a pond with dirt and debris floating around. The story's spareness leads to ambiguity as to the nature of the wilderness area "The Zone". The film suggests that the Zone is the site of an alien spaceship landing or meteor strike, or perhaps is imaginary.

Tiny fish swim in a metal pan, loose coins
scatter around the portrait of a saint

Fish swimming in the metal pan shows the first sign of life in this desolated place. The image of loose coins around a saint suggests alms given to holy men during pilgrimages. The portrait may be Saint Anthony since he is associated with the desert and isolation. Tarkovsky writes about Saint Anthony in his Journals (November 3, 1981; January 27, 1986)

The camera pans slowly along the waters
as if we're watching a Chinese scroll inside
someone's dream of a surreal landscape
mysteriously beautiful and sublime.

While Chinese scrolls of landscape painting are depicted from right to left, in the film Stalker's Dream Sequence, the camera pans from bottom to top, as if we were floating with the river's debris upstream.

A rusty coiled iron spring appears in
this debris that was once somewhere inside
a machine or gadget that's no longer working
like those helices breathing in hemoglobin.

This rusty coiled iron spring reminds me of the helices in hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier protein in blood that is 80% helical. Each hemoglobin molecule is a tetramer containing two α-chains of 141 amino acids and two β-chains of 146 amino acids. The 574-residues hemoglobin has a molecular weight of 64,000 daltons. Each chain contains a heme group with iron at its center that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues in our body via the blood. Max Perutz was awarded the Chemistry Nobel Prize in 1962 for elucidating the 3-dimensional structure of hemoglobin. In 1976, Perutz showed that as the oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin carried and released oxygen, the hemoglobin molecule moved on a microscopic scale— expanding & contracting much like our lungs as we breathe in and out.

Next we see a ripped piece of paper calendar
with the number 28— was this by chance
or by director's design placed here to wake
us from our tired slumber to wakefulness.

On noticing the number 28 on the piece of paper, I wondered if the director placed it there on purpose. Among the debris, this "28" stood out. Was Tarkovsky into numerology? Did 28 have a special significance for him? Did he know that 28 was a perfect number? Later in his lecture, Professor Bird mentioned that the piece of paper was from a calendar showing December 28, the day Tarkovsky died seven years later {actually he died on December 29, 1986 in Paris of lung cancer). Vladimir Sharun, sound designer in Stalker is convinced that Tarkovsky, his wife Larisa Tarkovskaya, and actor Anatoli Solonitsyn, who all died from the very same type of lung cancer were poisoned when shooting the film near a chemical plant (foretold Chernobyl).

Ah 28!— the second perfect number discovered
by Euclid, equal to the sum of its divisors.
Suddenly those words at the film's beginning
become clear— "and the moon was like blood".

A perfect number is equal to the sum of its divisors. The first four
perfect numbers were known in antiquity (Euclid's Elements, 300 BC):
6 = 1 + 2 + 3
28 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14
496 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 31 + 62 + 124 + 248
8128 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 127 + 254 + 508 + 1016 + 2032 + 4064
The Dream Sequence in Stalker begins with these subtitles:
And there was a great earthquake
And the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair.
And the moon became blood...
and the stars of the sky fell to earth...
as a fig tree casts its unripe figs
when shaken by a great wind.
And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up.
And every mountain and island were moved out of their place.

The lunar cycle is twenty-eight days
in sync with a woman's menstrual period.

The moon completes 4 phases once it has wandered through the 28 lunar mansions.
Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers, Oxford Univesity Press, 1993, p. 239
Average human menstrual cycle in women is 28 days.

Silicon's atomic weight is 28 as well as
the nitrogen molecule in the air we breathe.

Atomic Weight of Silicon (Si) = 28 (28.0855)
Silicon is present in the sun and stars and is a principal component of a class
of meteorites known as aerolites. Silicon makes up 25.7% of the earth's crust
by weight, and is the second most abundant element, exceeded only by oxygen.
It is found largely as silicon oxides such as sand (silica), quartz, rock crystal,
amethyst, agate, flint, jasper and opal. Silicon is found also in minerals
such as asbestos, feldspar, clay and mica (Silicon Numerology).
Molecular weight of nitrogen, N2 = 28.02; Total Molecular Mass of Air = 28.97
with nitrogen making up 78% of air and oxygen 21%. (air composition)

To see silicon dioxide in a grain of sand
and heaven flow to earth in computer chips—

Since computer chips are made of silicon, and sand is silicon dioxide,
Blake's prophecy has come true with the Internet,
with infinity in our hand, the World Wide Web
linking everybody together in a grain of sand—
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
  And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.
  Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
  And Eternity in an hour.”

(Augeries of Innocence)
Image: William Blake in 1807 portrait by Thomas Phillips.

Blake knew this well: "The 28th Lark flies clear
in inspiration... The Lark is a mighty Angel."

Samuel Foster Damon writes in A Blake's Dictionary (p. 234)—
"Lark is the new idea which comes as inspiration in the dawn. Blake depicts him as a naked boy singing in ecstasy as he flies upward into the yet starry sky."
We find in Blake's Milton 36.12 (1811):
Inspired & at the dawn of day send out another Lark
Thus are the Messengers dispatch'd till they reach the Earth again
In the East Gate of Golgonooza, & the Twenty-eighth bright
met the Female Ololon descending into my Garden.
Thus it appears to Mortal eyes & those of the Ulro Heavens,
But not thus to Immortals: the Lark is a mighty Angel.

Image: Rufous Songlark (Cincloramphus mathewsi)

Professor Bird says this Sci-Fi film is
about an alien or meteor strike of earth,
but somehow 28 has turned the horror
of this place into the descent of grace.

Tarkovsky's science fiction film Stalker seemed bleak about aliens or meteor striking the earth. However the perfect number 28 appearing in the waters conjured more of life than death in the image of blood (28 days in woman's menstrual period) and air (28 in the molecular weight of nitrogen). The lunar cycle of 28 days gives this number a cosmic dimension. Finally, Blake's 28th Lark flying in inspiration provides healing for earth so we may experience the blessings of heaven. It is interesting that the lecturer's name is Bird— the songlark who inspired this poem.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (12-31-2009)