September 17th, 2011
(First appears in Poetry, August 1919)
A bit overheated and not nearly oblique enough for our irony-saturated aughties needs, but I love the bluntforce trauma of the title and theme just fine. The subject never gets old — what do we gain and what do we lose the more we try to apply mechanistic thinking to all phenomena surrounding us? I once had a friend in high school, a gifted math and science-minded student whom I was very fond of, who expressed, with a kind of shy and giddy earnestness, his wish to discover the equations underlying all emotion. I remember instinctively recoiling from such an idea, and so went our debate.
& I feel the same way now, decades later. Being human means having a mind with an affinity for categorization, pattern-finding, abstraction, quantification; we can, have and should continue to apply those faculties toward an increased understanding of ourselves and our external realities. But when we do this irresponsibly we a) miss out on ways of knowing the universe that are NOT just scientific-mechanistic, but which have more to do with ourselves as spiritual and artistic beings who crave real interaction between ourselves and what’s around us; and b) we run the risk of creating distance between ourselves and the things — be they birds, butterflies, or emotions — we are attempting to dissect & break down to component parts. It’s not so much that science is a “horrid voice”. I’d say it’s more that irresponsible reliance on science as our main (or, heaven forbid, only) way to perceive & process the universe can create a horrid void in us — the lonely void of looking around and merely observing creation as a set of deterministic processes instead of relating to it — to the bird, tree, butterfly, insect, fellow human — as a series of singularly beautiful manifestations of the universe. It’s not only our gift but duty to bring ourselves in cultivated states of mindfulness, gratefulness, feeling and spirit to the universe; not just as algebraists dissectors and technicians but also as caretakers, friends, singers, worshipers & rejoicers.
(P.s., If anyone knows the exact date of this poem’s first publication [and, of course, which publication it was first featured in], please let me know — I’m trying to assign attribution as precisely as possible to each artwork I feature on this site)
For more on Lindsay, please check out the University of Virginia’s e-text of Lindsay’s poetry collection called The Congo and Other Poems here.