The Feather & the Faun: highlights from the TED Fellows Retreat

Ben Burke performs at TED2013. Photo: Ryan Lash

Ben Burke performs at TED2013. Photo: Ryan Lash

On the final night of the TED Fellows Retreat, comedian Negin Farsad hosted a stage show offering the range of talents – from the silly to the sublime – Fellows have to offer. Christine Marie‘s 3D shadow-puppets popped out at bespectacled Fellows, and filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky sang his own arrangement of classic blues songs, while astrophysicist Lucianne Walkowicz treated everyone to a surprise performance of one of her own songs, accompanied by cellist Joshua Roman. A mesmerizing and sensual performance of Cambodian classical dance by Prumsodun Ok, a surprise performance by special guest executive producer of TED media June Cohen and a loving send-up of TED Fellows director Tom Rielly by archaeologist Sarah Parcak rounded out a raucous evening.

In one particularly magical moment, artist and performer Ben Burke offered this poem, “The Feather & the Faun”, verses full of whimsy and wistfulness. He said it was written after TED2013 “in response to the gathering of all that great knowledge, the desire to soak it all in, and yet the need to also be comfortable with the unknown … that the unknown will always be there.” Here it is in full…



for the Amygdala

The Faun awakes amongst the trees –
Its bed a heap of molded leaves.
Its little head is still asleep and it is filled with dreams.

'Til the world cracks open, once again
To bleed for Life, to breathe, and then
The Night will stitch it up and mend the seams.

For the Sun shines so brightly
     For Knowledge, each day –
Trying to find out, for example,
     How you know what to say
     When you say what you say.

Yes the Sun is unrelenting
As it replaces the Unknown with Truth –
Trying to Know, but not knowing
     That for some things there will never be proof.

When every element is laid out on the table,
     Every secret drawn out of the dark.
Every phantom in its jar with a label.
     Behold!  The structure of the song of the lark!

Here’s a drop of your blood,
     Here’s the thought you just had.
Here’s the wings once attached to your fancy.

Here’s your face in the mud,
     Here’s the good that’s gone bad.
Here’s the hooves of the horse that was prancing.

There’s a glint in your eye
     But it’s out of its socket.
A portrait of a lover
     Fallen out of a locket.

There were holes in that bucket of water you carried
     That person you fell for is perfect –
     And married.

Yes the mist of the mystery
Has all blown away.

The store of the story
Has closed for the day.

For what you don't know can hurt you.
     Or perhaps it will save you.
To be sure, though, it's difficult to say.

But when it's all said and done –
     Then it's over.
And that's no fun.

Besides, it's an impossible feat.

For the more that you know,
     The more you'll know you don't know,
So it's best to view the Unknown as a treat.

For there’s a key to this cabinet
     And wonder inside it
But don't overlook the strange rug that lies under.

For Fate’s hand will soon grab it
     And deftly it slides it
And you'll mark the occasion with a blunder.

So if it’s answers you desire,
     Grab a hold of your skin.
Feel the pull of your wires
     Where that feeling begins –

Where, in fact, never ends.
     Where, in fact, it cascades.
You are eternal messages sent
     Through infinite streets of parades.

You are two cups and a string.
You are the phone and the call.
     You have placed it
     And you are the place
     Where all waters must fall –

Where all things are built up.
Where all things are torn down.
     You are the knife that cuts gems
     That are placed in the crown.

Yes you are the view the whole world cannot see.
You are the words that foretold every thing that will be.

You ARE the kingdom, my friend.
You’ve no need for a throne.
     And if you're very, very quiet –
     You'll feel the world in your bones.

Now there’s a place for facts and figures
And there’s a place for figures to rest.
     When you can’t quite explain
     All the joy and the pain
Or the secrets that lie in your chest.

Change will do what it does –
Make what is from what was
     But there’s no sense in guessing what’s coming.

Don’t take pride in the knowing –
Find joy in the finding.
     Don’t name the song, just keep humming.

A feather falls from high above –
     The tail of an eagle? The wing of a dove?
A person is simply a thing that you love.
     The Brain is the hand that is inside the glove.

The Heart is a thing in your jacket.
     Desire – a thing in your pants.
With your face in the shade of the brim of your hat,
     Ask your shoes if they would like to dance.

Tell the world not to leave the light on.
Tell the Sun to nevermind with the dawn.
Make a bed of leaves your home,
In a quiet place, called The Unknown
And fall asleep, amongst the trees, with the Faun.

– Ben Burke