The Cloth of Gold Beneath the Sackcloth of Ordinary Reality


Everthing About Me Was Screaming to Be Recognized

There are lots of ways to describe what this website is up to. It’s about somehow or other getting “an intense vision of the facts,” as the poet William Carlos Williams called the process. The philosopher Pierre Tielhard de Chardin said “to see or to perish” is the bottom line for every single sentient being – such as us humans. Or you could call it finding a way to focus “the beam of attention” as much as possible every day all day. So how to pull that off? My English students at Diablo Valley College used to try strategies for that. Their reflections, which they shared with each other, often described their results. One of them delighted me with what he said about his trip down to the tide pools around Moss Beach on the Coast.

Here’s the part that struck me:

Just Waiting to Be Understood and Have Recognition

But to my surprise everyone and everything was beautiful when I got to the beach. The sun was shining and the tide was out. The place was truly waiting for us. It knew we were coming and had a fabulous show waiting for us. I could hardly wait to get to the bottom of the hill and look around in the water. The life of the sea fascinates me. There are strange and beautiful things there just waiting to be understood and have recognition in our world. Well, I don’t pass them by. I stop and say hello every time I’m down there. —  Mike


I Stop and Say Hello

Well, as they usually did, students read each others’ reflections, and Gary wrote that Mike’s reflection had triggered an epiphany!

Here’s his response:

Ah, The Center of a Different Kind of Universe!

It’s the wildest idea I have ever had in my life. I had considered the idea that all things derive their meaning a purpose from man, for he defines them. This is the concept that man is the measure of all things. As I perceive things, they are to me just that. That puts me in the center of the universe, MY universe, whose boundaries extend as far as I desire them to go and include those objects and people I make significant to me.

Screaming to Be Recognized and Be Given Meaning

Mike put a completely new twist on the theory, and it was like turning on the light and finding that I had always been in the dark before. It was simply a new angle I had never considered before, but once the bend was made, everything became straight. It was a case of putting an old idea into a new arrangement and coming out with a new one. It is a whole new set of vibrations. It is like discovering a whole new set of frequencies that I never new existed before. Everything around me is screaming at me to be recognized and given meaning and to be freed from non-being. Everything is reaching out to me, straining and stretching and pleading. I gain a completely new and real importance, and I think for the first time I have really became the center of my own universe. — Gary

A Feeling of Ownership

And my own reflection?

Well, thanks, Mike and Gary. You remind me there’s a feeling of ownership in realizing that when I get up this morning I get to make the sun come up, just like Orpheus, not yesterday’s cliché of a sun but this new one, this sun has never, ever been in existence till I laid eyes on it, till I laid my full beam of attention on it. I’m in charge, and everything lights up with my attention and thanks me by making my world larger. And the stronger my beam, the more illumined that being becomes. It’s up to me, isn’t it? It’s my job. My cereal, my milk, my fly buzzing where it’s not supposed to be – I get to liberate them from non-being. I’m in charge. “Does anyone ever realize life, every, every minute?” asks Emily in Our Town. “The saints and poets maybe. They do some,” she is told. Well, why should saints an poets have all the fun? Move over, here comes my sun.

How about you, reader of this post?


Books About the Realms of Gold

Clark's BooksAll Things Are Connected


Let us not look back in anger,

nor forward in fear,

but around us in awareness.”
― James Thurber

That all things are connected  is pretty obvious if you think about it a little.   Your intelligence, for example, isn’t set off all by itself in the cosmos; it’s an aspect of the whole thing, completely interwoven with the whole thing. There is a life force flowing through the cosmos.  Step back and you will see that the cosmos is itself that force — what’s more, you yourself are that force.  All things are connected.   If you think, that’s the cosmos thinking.  Realms of Gold: Excursions in the Sea of Intelligence is designed to explore how all this fits together.

Looking back, it’s easy to see  my books, written over several decades,  were times-out for a look at all this wonderful interconnectedness  that’s so often taken for granted.  If you look at the descriptions below of some of them, you’ll see they were pointed to this present look around.   The Sea of Intelligence is on one thing going on, and we humans are an aspect of it.  This website, Excursions in the Sea of Intelligence, will make that clear. Realms of Gold is about why it matters.

  • Montage, Investigations in Language, which I wrote with William Sparke decades ago, was an interactive book long before the internet. It is full of quotes and stories, and poems and essays and puzzles and photos and science and math and music and grass and sky and air and God knows what. It was designed to engage the mind in thinking about how the world works and how a human being works. If there were any bored readers, I never encountered them.

Montage is all about language too, of course, and how language can imprison the spirit or free it. You can’t read Montage without realizing that prison or the open road is our own choice, to see or to perish, as Chardin rightly said.

  • Image, Reflections on Language traces the emergence of selfhood from before conception to after death. Who were you before your mother conceived you? In the beginning was the Word. What are some productive ways to think about that? How can a spiritual being live in a world of settled ideas? It’s the job of every one of us to disturb settled ideas. How can I take out life insurance without injuring my soul? Where do I live? Is it possible to live where I live? How much of my day is spent on what has happened; how much on what’s up ahead? What’s left?

Image, Reflections on Language does not solicit answers; it simply holds the door open. Reflection on such things enriches our lives, and we don’t care if school keeps or not.

  • Thinking About Thinking sets up explorations into our own minds, using the mind to think about the mind. How does thinking actually work; what is the physics of it, the chemistry, the coding and decoding? Where does metaphor fit in, logic, love? What about the genetic code?

Thinking About Thinking isn’t a how-to book. It’s a playground for messing around with ideas: Whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t. What are some ways to look at that as being true? Whatever you say a thing is, it is. How about some ways that that’s true, too. Can something be true even if it didn’t happen? What are some perspectives from which that idea makes sense? We think by feeling? We feel by thinking? Make both of them true.


If you aren’t smiling, are you really thinking?


There’s so much gained and so much lost in words, in the Word. And there is always Why bother in the first place? Can’t we just memorize the rule book and avoid the pain of figuring things out on our own?

The point of these explorations is not to get answers, which after all are only placebos, but to get a good look at this infinitely large and infinitely small universe. Wonder isn’t an answer. It’s an experience.

  • Teaching Human Beings: The Role of Language in Education is about a way to involve students in this journey no matter what discipline is being investigated. If you are looking at a clump of grass in a biology class or examining the periodic chart in chemistry or the subatomic field in physics or Ode to Joy in music, it’s always about getting a clearer picture of one’s own world, not merely about storing masses of information in the left-hemisphere of the brain. Ask Walt Whitman or Richard Feynman. It’s also about the feeling of wonder that sometimes comes over us on a bus in San Francisco.

Bon Voyage.

The Website That Thought It Was Going to Be a Book

Clark  12 18 11There’s More to Anything

Realms of Gold started as book, but it has a mind of its own and now it wants to be a website.  So I have to segue into this mode.  To give you the feel of it,  here’s the preface of  the manuscript that thought it was going to be a book.


  • I’ll be posting entries several times a week, not too much at a time, maybe  700 to a thousand words at a time.

This preface of the ms that thought it was going to be a book is in the form of a poem because I was using language with more intensity than we  commonly run into every day.

 These posts  will look like prose, usually, but there’s more to anything when you think about it, and when you do, you’ve turned it into a poem.

It’s like this: On your way to the post office, you may see what appear to be people going about their lives.  But sometimes everywhere you look are  bunched up bundles of starlight.  The people are the illusion, albeit a very convincing one, as Einstein put it.  The bundles of starlight are what’s really going on.  We do need to go to the post office.  We do need to see people, but our spirits demand that we also see bundles of starlight.  So that’s what I’ll be working on in Realms of Gold:

The spine of this website is

the integration of logic and metaphor,

the integration of the language of science
with the mytho-poetic way
of talking about that-which-is –
pulsating frequencies
in the quantum field
with fields of daffodils.

Surface Features

[ These posts can be read separately, but they are sequential, too,  each continuing from where the previous one left off.  So if you would like to follow the thought process, start with the first posting.

The latest posts are listed on the left of each page. ]


There’s More to AnythingThere's more to anything.

Look at the photo of a black rectangle.    It hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and if you get a chance to go there, it’s a great painting for practicing the surface-features game.  (This photo is OK, but doesn’t hold a candle to the original painting in SFMOMA.)  At first glance it looks like someone roller-brushed about 6 by 7 1/2 feet of flat black paint onto a canvas and hung it on the wall.  But if you stay there awhile, it comes alive — texture, almost invisible red vertical lines, etc. It’s actually more glossy than flat, and FYI, there’s no frame. I stop by every time I’m in the museum.  It gets better all the time.

The artist is Clyfford Still. [Untitled.  82 1/8 X 69 X 1 1/2.   1951]  You can google all

Clyfford Still, Untitled [formerly Self-Portrait], 1945; painting; oil on canvas, 70 7/8 in. x 42 in Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Clyfford Still, Untitled [formerly Self-Portrait], 1945; painting; oil on canvas, 70 7/8 in. x 42 in
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

sorts of information about Still and the kind of painting he did and learn that  he died in 1980 and that a museum devoted to his work opened in Denver in 2011.

After my last visit, I did some googling and discovered a succinct YouTube by SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra that centers on a Clyford Still painting and on how one can approach an abstract painting:

The gist is that when Benezra was twelve or so, he had gone with his father, an abstract expressionist artist, to the museum and had come upon the painting above, at the time titled “Self Portrait.”  How could that possibly be a self-portrait?  “Well,” his father said, “it’s enough for an abstract expressionist artist to allude to the human figure.  You don’t have to describe a human figure to imply one.”

The YouTube is short and well worth your time:  It’s short and well worth your time.

Chapter 1 OnLooking Into John Keats and This Book


Clark McKowen, Site Author

Clark McKowen, Site Author

On the Person in the Mirror

[ These posts can be read separately, but they are sequential, too,  each continuing from where the previous one left off.  So if you would like to follow the thought process, start with the first posting.  There’s a list of recent posts to the left of each page.]





It’s about time to post the John Keats sonnet that provided the title of this site.  It’s in the first line: “Much have I travelled in the realms of gold.”  Sounds poetic, doesn’t it, pretty words, hyperbole – not to be taken literally.  But what if those words could be taken literally, what if Keats really did mean that

 There are realms so vivid and so intense that they flood the senses with   brilliant golden light?

What I can safely say is that:

We all live in those realms quite literally all the time. 

The manuscript for this web site is full of  reports of people who have traveled in the realms of gold.  In fact, one such person is in your mirror every morning, as you well know, though you may forget from time to time and even long stretches of time.  Those realms are imprinted on your nervous system and flow in the blood pulsing in your veins.  And I do mean that quite literally.

Here’s the poem, written in 1816, almost 200 years ago:

On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
–John Keats


My nerve endings are hibernating

I’m sure that poem isn’t imprinted on the nerve endings of many readers these days.  It wasn’t particularly meaningful to my wife when I asked her take on it.  “My nerve endings are hibernating,” she said.  My students and I discovered a way to fix that, though.  When our senses were hibernating, we would do the surface-features game.  It worked every time.

If we happened on a poem lying around in some dusty book, or maybe an oil slick on the wet driveway or some petals from a cherry tree – things that didn’t seem to have anything to do with our own realms of gold – we would start in ticking off surface features.
We would go around the room, and each person would point out one detail, anything at all, even as in this poem something as simple as the spelling of travelled  or that the poet’s name is John Keats.  As best we could, we avoided interpretations and stabs at meaning.  We wanted to get a good look at what was right there on the surface,  just the facts.  This put us all on the same footing.

We had all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds in our classes, and in the surface-features game everyone got to play.  Someone might notice the rhyming, and someone else  might say  that seen doesn’t rhyme with been – unless the poet  happens to be English, as some student was bound to point out.  Someone might say there are fourteen lines, someone else might say that that’s a sonnet, and another would figure out the rhyme pattern (abba abba cdcdcd).  Apollo, Homer, Chapman?  These days, someone would probably google those – and Darien and Cortez, and so on.

As though a light had been turned on

But then,  as we continued,  something remarkable began to happen. I remember doing this with Pieter Bruegel’s painting, Children’s Games. I had thought it would be fun to see what all Bruegel had painted into it.  To our surprise and delight, every time someone pointed to something, it was over that detail.  The painting (it could have been this Keats poem or a spider web) got more and more vivid with each new discovery (dis-covery).  There was an uncanny sensation of the lighting being turned up; the painting kept getting brighter.  And our senses started coming out of hibernation.  We illuminated the Bruegel painting quite literally by concentrating our beam of attention on it.   It’s a matter of seeing what’s there.

The Surface-Features Game
The surface-features game turned out to have many applications.  You can use it to look at a clump of grass, a Robert Frost poem, an argument, a photograph, and just about anything.  It disciplines the conscious mind to pay attention long enough for insight to kick in, and you begin to find your way back to the realms of gold.   It could also be described as tuning your body and mind for a melodic day.

I’ll tell more about my own experience with “On Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” in the next post, but I’ll finish this one with how to go about the surface-features process:

●    Look around for a piece of art – a painting, a sculpture, a cigarette butt, something you hate, something you like, it doesn’t matter – and jot down surface features till you run out or get bored.  (I’d be surprised if you got bored.)
Try to keep your observations as emotion-neutral and as non-judgmental as you can. This is your poem, after all, so I can’t be certain of your findings, butOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

●    Typically sometime during the process your experience of this image is going to shift into the all-at-once mode, and you will click over from the facts to an intense vision of them (some few of us – geniuses, the great poets and saints–are always there).  You will see this image in a way you never did before.  You will begin to see as its creator saw – sometimes seeing even more than its creator saw.

The Depth and Breadth of Meaning
When you first look at the image, you get a sort of snapshot.  Then you do the surface-features game.  Then you step back and you see the image again as whole but this time you really see it.  Or at least you get a toe-hold.   There is no end to what’s there, right on the surface – which, of course, is everything, including all the depth and breadth of meaning you create in relation to it.

Pointing the Cart Where It Wants to Go

Clark McKowen, Site Author

Clark McKowen, Site Author


 Smart Entities Don’t Exist in Isolation

[These posts can be read separately, but they’re sequential, too.   If you’d like to follow the thought process, start with the first posting.  There is a list of latest posts on the left.]

Here’s  a little about how this website is set up.  It started out as a book about a  resort for dogs in south-western Pennsylvania, and I wasn’t far into that till I realized the book wanted to be not just about those amazing creatures but about how smart all creatures are.  So I started pointing my cart in that direction.

What a Dog Is

Then I realized, for heaven’s sake, all living things are tremendously intelligent, relatively speaking, so the book took a turn that way.  But then it came to mind that these smart entities don’t exist in isolation; any pinpoint of intelligence is part of, indeed is, the whole intelligence network.

                                                                                                           The Universe Masquerading as a Fox Terrier

The Universe Masquerading as a Fox Terrier

So there it is.  If you want to talk about dogs and do it properly, you have to talk about sub-atomic stuff, and the golden apples of the sun.  Nothing less will give you a good sense of what a dog is.



This continual shifting bothered me a little bit. I had structured other books with satisfying patterns that emerged early.  One decided to flow chapter by chapter through the stages of life, from nothingness to infancy to old age to death and back to no-thing.  Another decided to be structured like a symphony, themes rising and falling, prelude to coda.  Another sectioned itself off subject by subject.  And so on.  It seemed to me, working on what was now my intelligence book, there ought to be a  logical way to arrange the material.  But the material refused to be reasonable.  It did not want to be put together in a logical way, and it refused my efforts to make it fit a conventional framework.

A Star or Nose Hairs?

Then one day I was working on a segment when I ran across the quote of the zen poet Ryokan in which he asks, ” If you point your  cart north when you want to go south, how will you arrive?” Ah!  My cart did not want to go north.  Then I remembered the kinds of conversations I love and the beautiful classes I had had with my students over many years when we discovered which way our cart wanted to go.  There was never a logical structure, never a logical beginning, and in the end we had gone no-where.  We began right in the middle of everything, in media res, and we ended up there – illuminated.  What seemed an insurmountable difficulty in my intelligence book was the crazy certainty that everything is everything, but as my students and I learned, that’s not such a terrible situation. Whether we were looking at a star or nose hairs we soon found ourselves looking every which way.  The star was in the nucleus of the atom in my big toe.  And the spirit of the universe was there for all to see in a cup of cold coffee with a cockroach floating around in it.  As a student years ago wrote,

                           There’s more to anything when you think about it.

Our How-Things-Are Painting

As I thought about how this new  book wanted to be arranged, I realized it wanted to go the way the classes had gone, the way my conversations with good friends usually go: We always start in the middle.  It’s the same with us all.




We human beings start, whether we’re aware of it or not, with a picture in our heads of how things are.  What we’re all doing is working on that picture,  our how-things-are painting. 


In Medias Res

                 In Medias Res


You can see this easily when you watch a baby going at it.  The kid is trying to get a handle on this mess he or she’s  been thrust into, not dismayed or upset but joyously checking things out, having a fine time.

The Heartbreakingly Beautiful Moment.

It was the same with college students. They didn’t give a damn what we explored.  They realized, perhaps not really articulating it – I don’t recall anyone every mentioning it – that they were working on their painting.


Whatever we were messing with, however far afield we went – and we did indeed go into the fields sometimes – they would be happily painting in a bit of their picture or stepping back a pace or two and seeing how much clearer it was becoming, how much more vivid.  So of course there it was: My intelligence  book wanted to start anywhere – for it was always the same picture becoming more lucid with each visit.  Start with a wild parrot, you come back to the life force manifesting.

Start with a grand symphony – or a cable car clattering on Powell Street – you always come back to the blood coursing through the veins, the heartbreakingly beautiful moment.

The heartbreakingly beautiful moment

It’s All About a Rain-Glazed Wheelbarrow

And  when we run across a poem we encountered last March, since it’s always the same picture we’re all working on, we’ve traveled realms of gold since then, and now that red wheelbarrow  is intense, glistening with sunlit rain drops.  We do not leave beautiful things  to gather dust.  When we come back, we’ve traveled some.  It doesn’t matter that we’ve been looking at wild mustangs; it’s all about a red wheelbarrow.  We all know that.

So that’s the way my intelligence book wanted to go.  And now it wants to be a website, and it wants to be called Realms of Gold.  Who am I to argue? That’s the way the cart wants to go.

                                                           REALMS OF GOLD