Message From the Unseen World

Beneath Bishop’s Bridge Road, halfway between Sheldon Square and the entrance to Paddington underground station, you’ll find an intriguing work of art. Curated by Futurecity on behalf of British Land, this permanent installation is a collaboration between United Visual Artists and poet Nick Drake.

Alan Turing is one of Paddington’s most famous sons. This artwork, Message From the Unseen World, celebrates his groundbreaking work on artificial intelligence. Its outer shell comprises aluminium panels, punctuated with holes. LED lights shine through the holes, forming the words to Drake’s poem. A Turing-inspired algorithm shuffles through the poem, creating new interpretations of the verse.

You can see the full poem below.

Message from the Unseen World

Nick Drake


This is Alan speaking

to you who pass by this bridge

in the enchantment of time

under the echoing arch

over the mirror of water

on your way to work or home

and to other places in the infinity

held in the secret dream cave

of your mysterious minds 


This is Alan speaking

through this interface with time and space

I am the ghost in the universal machine

the one I dreamed as I lay on the grass

that grew in the green of lost time

of a meadow in Grantchester alone

thinking about whoever I was in love with at the time

and the unchanging truth of numbers

in their beautiful equations

and the enigma of human beings

in their infinite possible configurations -

I was puzzling the problem of the apple

of the knowledge of good and evil -

For on that day you eat of it

you shall surely die 

but the winding snake

the only creature coded as a question

looked me in the eye and asked

in his intelligent high voice -


What’s wrong with this picture?

Why do starfish have five arms

and why are they fish not stars?

What connects stars and grains of sand?

What is the secret ciphered in a fir cone?

Why is the heart always on the left?

Natural wonders every child should know… 


He smiled like the flickering pages of a book -

Christopher, my first true love, appeared

his beautiful fingers blue with ink

holding his telescope and the star globe

I made him as a present -

We lay side by side

looking through the window at the stars

naming the constellations

as they wheeled across the night

The maths brain lies often awake in his bed

Doing logs to ten places and trig in his head

When I woke in the shock of light

he was gone

and nothing was ever the same again


What happens to the dead

when spirit separates from matter?

Is time a river ever giving birth

in an endless wheel?

Why is loss always incalculable?

What is the heart’s square root,

its point and infinite recurrences? 


This is Alan speaking

perhaps you wish to hear about the task

of deciphering the Enigma messages?

It was the impossible before breakfast

to imagine the unimaginable

the day after war was declared -

but a logical theorem says

you can deduce everything from a contradiction

so we imagined a cryptanalytic machine

an electric brain ticking away

to solve the insoluble

to sort the irrelevant from the essential

to discover the heart of the mystery

in thousands of meaningless signals every day

enciphered and sent by the enemy

in billions of different possible combinations -

like reading a poem written in random static

in wind and rain and dark

threaded with the dot and dash of Morse

encrypted   transmitted   transcribed

but there was one clue -

a letter was never enciphered as itself

so that was the starting point

to find the letters that made the only word

that helped to save ships and lives

in the middle of the Atlantic

and some say win the war -

We kept hush hush but I wondered 


Could a machine be intelligent and if so how?

Could a machine be fascinated by another machine?

Could machines talk to each other?

Could a machine experience delight

and suffer fear and jealousy?

If a machine could dream what would it dream

in the forest of the night?

Could a machine fall sick or fall in love?

Could a machine imagine the future? 


This is Alan speaking

we devised the Automatic Computing Engine

capable of calculating anything

quantified in an algorithm

and that was the basis of the future -

But how is it I found myself

a stranger in a room alone

a sequence of contradictory instructions

coded into my criminal heart?

Of gross indecency accused

I replied truthfully

Englishman atheist mathematician

Order of the British Empire

Recreations listed in Who’s Who

chess   long-distance running   gardening

(the last a kind of lie, I like wild flowers) -

Homosexual cryptographer

noble in reason or traitor in his bones?

Unable to say a word of what I knew

unable to speak the unspeakable

secret within the secret

I felt no guilt -

They offered me a choice

Prison or probation

with hormonal emasculation -

I made my decision

and emerged a different man 


Why does nothing happen for a long time

Then everything suddenly changes?

Why does the rational give rise to the irrational?

Who is this man kissing me on the mouth?

Is he telling truth or lies? 


This is Alan speaking

now as I could not speak before

to you who were unborn when I died -

Oh beautiful people of tomorrow

we are not fallen creatures

life is the only garden

the apple is love  

two Adams, two Eves

in open celebration hand in hand

So I delight to watch you dance

in the enchantment of time

like angels in a forest of mirrors

but in the age of shopping

festivals and information consumption

the sign of the bitten apple is everywhere

and your lives are held in the beautiful devices

familiar in your hands -

So revel in your liberty

but read between the lines

you are becoming information

touch screen to touch screen

connected but alone

the algorithm of desires and dreams

end to end encryption held

in the infinite memory of the great ghost server 


How did the zebra get its stripes

and the leopard its disguise of spots?

Why does a snail have a spiral shell?

Why do sunflowers follow not just the sun

but the Fibonacci sequence

in the structure of their beautiful faces?

How does a bud of cells generate your seeing eyes

and beating heart?  


This is Alan speaking

I have been waiting a long time

puzzling everything and nothing -

I leave no note of explanation

but a mystery story

it is an ordinary summer evening

by the side of my bed is found

a half-eaten slice of apple

Dip the apple in the brew

let the sleeping death seep through -

I lie alone for the last time

at the edge of reality

my arms at my sides

like a badly-dressed figure on a tomb

looking out of the window at the sun

setting for the final night

a golden apple in the black branches

of a tree of shadows where the birds quibble -

until it disappears into the dark



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