How poetry inspired Tesla to design one of his most important inventions

tesla image

No matter how much we dwell on the nature of creative process, there are still a lot of uncertainties how creative part of personality develops. Usually it fluctuates between states of exquisite thrill and inspiration and extreme, deep introvert isolation. We have documents about creative processes of highly creative people like Michelangelo, Mozart, Picasso and even Tesla stating that these people managed to sustain prolonged periods of creative display, but one that was often triggered by some depressive mood or trauma, ending also with some distorted thoughts.

Tesla’s descriptions of creative process in his autobiography give important insights into the phenomenon. Right on the first page we read:

…for many years my life was little short of continuous rapture.

Nikola Tesla was, no doubt, a remarkable man, an extraordinary scientist and inventor. If we look more deeply into his habits, infatuations and things he was attracted to, we can observe more clearly his sources of inspiration.

He was born in Smiljane in 1856. in the family of an orthodox priest. Even in his early age he showed inclinations towards science. As a young boy he got ill, infected by cholera. While still fighting with death, he begged his father to let him study technical sciences. A firm promise that his father made, gave strength Tesla to get better and later, in 1875. he enters technical school in Graz. Even during studies he contemplated the idea about alternating current.

It’s interesting to note that while working on new inventions Tesla had visions, images and even could hear strange voices – rather then expressing his thoughts in numbers or terms. He writes:

In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of  images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light…When a word was spoken to me the image of the object it designated would present itself  vividly to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.

One of the lesser known facts about Tesla is that he was also a great fan of poetry. It was an excerpt of Goethe’s Faust that inspired him to finalize his invention of  the alternating current-motor. The term “world-changing invention” certainly applies to this innovation.

tesla motor

Around 1881., Tesla goes for a walk with his friend Antal Szigety in Budapest. While walking through a park the young Tesla recites a poetic passage by heart:

The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!

I’d see in that eternal evening beam,
Beneath my feet, the world in stillness glowing,
Each valley hushed and every height agleam,
The silver brook to golden rivers flowing.
The mountain wild with all its gorges
Would hinder not the godlike course for me;
Before astounded eyes already surges,
With bays yet warm, the open sea.
And yet at last the god seems to be sinking;
But new impulse awakes, to light
I hasten on, eternal brightness drinking,
Before me day, behind me night,
Above me heaven, and under me the billow.
A lovely dream, while glory fades from sight.
Alas! To wings that lift the spirit light
No earthly wing will ever be a fellow.

What verses described, he was actually experiencing himself at the moment. And as the sun set that day, it is believed that Tesla have drawn the design for the induction motor in the sand.

The passage Tesla quotes is about a dream of flying beyond the sun, the heavens, in eternal daylight. And Tesla finds the metaphor, the parallel between the dream and the priority for human kind. He further writes:

If we want to avert an impending calamity and a state of things which may transform the globe into an inferno, we should push the development of flying machines and wireless transmission of energy without an instant’s delay.

Tesla was also a talented poet himself. A lot of his thoughts and musings he would write in the form of poem that would later serve him as a reminder or a guidance in his future work.

What we can learn from Tesla is that any innovative thinking, being scientific or otherwise, is nourished by diverse influences, conditions and environments and that we should keep our senses always alert.

Sources: McLean, A. ed. 2006 Goethe’s Faust (from 1.act, 1. scene to 2. act, 2. scene)

Tesla, N. 2005, My Inventions; The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, Wildside Press, LLC