The urge to know Posted on May 21, 2020

Confession: I’ve never been a fan of most modern poetry, Ogden Nash apart. TS Eliot? I reckon he made it up as he went along. “Peach’ rhymes with ‘beach’; couldn’t we all do that? Now and then, though, I meet a poet with no great pretentions who says something directly and neatly and memorably; something Alexander Pope would approve. (Pope wrote ‘What oft was thought, but ne’er so well exprest’).

Six or seven years ago I wrote about Jay Appleton, the geographer and landscape philosopher who coined the idea of Prospect and Refuge. To recap, he said certain views are inherently pleasurable because they answer to basic instincts. They give us notice of approaching threats (and opportunities) and at the same time give us the sense of being protected from behind. The view of a valley from a cave-mouth, for example. Or indeed a Palladian temple.

Appleton’s verse was published in 2009 in a little book called A Love Affair with Landscape, published by the Wildhern Press. Wordsworth he is not, but this is something for a gardener:

Deflected Vista

The thing I like about an avenue
Is how it takes possession of the eye,
Steers it directly where it’s going to –
That faraway, magnetic patch of sky.
But if that vistal corridor is bent,
Thus cutting short the visibility,
It doesn’t seem to put us off the scent;
It merely feeds our curiosity.
We humans daily struggle to survive.
By instinct we are programmed to explore;
It’s part of how we keep ourselves alive.
That is what curiosity is for!
Deflected vistas therefore serve to show
How overwhelming is the urge to know.

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