Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nature and City

The poet’s natural place is in a landscape, not a city. He who pictures nature red in tooth and claw is moved by an emotion inspired by human behavior rather than what we observe in nature. An interesting documentary on Civil War battle sites reminded me of this the other day. The site was Antietam. The show was a succession of images, of peaceful landscapes, but the producer alternated current day shots of hills and fences with photographs taken after the battle of the same scenes. The pictures taken long ago, however, also featured piles of bodies in uniform, the corpses grotesquely swollen by decay. Nature red in tooth and claw?

The mind wants to grasp reality and therefore simplifies and says: the poet’s place is in the landscape because Spirit permeates nature albeit in a muted, understated way. Predation is part, but a very small part, of nature—and has a utility function, like sewers have in urban settings. The city, by contrast, concentrates the peculiarly human spirit; hence it is a vastly more stimulating environment. But that which develops the human spirit is much more perceivable in unspoiled nature. What remains tangible of it in our vast conurbations is drowned out by noise and business, positively by excitement and distraction, negatively by conflict, anxiety, and, for many, misery.

Romanticism? Yes, of course. Big, sloppy symbols like Nature and City are easily debunked. Nature can be merciless and harsh; we could go to Pakistan to see that face of it; cities have charm, elegance, and symphonic orchestras. But if we contrast romanticism and modernism, for example, and ask ourselves which one describes reality more comprehensively, I’d vote for romanticism. It captures more aspects of reality.
Added Later: Only after this post was up did I look at other blogs and noted, with a chuckle, that Laudator Temporis Acti commented today on the same theme in its usual way, by quotes, here.


  1. Oh, you romantic, you!
    Fun coincidence, the matching theme with the Laudator Temporis Acti blog for the day.

  2. Interesting blog, that Laudator Temporis Acti!

  3. Yes, isn't it? A man of astonishing erudition, a fellow Minnesotan; knowledgable about law...