Questions of Travel

Recently read a beautiful poem by Elizabeth Bishop at Five Branch Tree. I share part of it here:

Is it right to be watching strangers in a play in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life in our bodies, we
are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around?

The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?

To stare at some inexplicable old stonework, inexplicable and impenetrable, at any view, instantly seen and always, always delightful?

Oh, must we dream our dreams and have them, too?

And have we room for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity not to have seen the trees along this road, really exaggerated in their beauty,

not to have seen them gesturing like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard the sad, two-noted, wooden tune of
disparate wooden clogs carelessly clacking over a grease-stained filling-station

(In another country the clogs would all be tested. Each pair there would
have identical pitch.)

A pity not to have heard the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird who sings above the broken gasoline pump in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque: three towers, five silver crosses.

Yes, a pity not to have pondered, blurr’dly and inconclusively, on what connection can exist for centuries between the crudest wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
Never to have studied history in the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
And never to have had to listen to rain so much like politicians’ speeches: two hours of unrelenting oratory and then a sudden golden silence in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places, not just stay at home? Or could Pascal have been not entirely right about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society: the choice is never wide and never free. And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?”

The entire poem can be found here.
What is it that drives our wanderlust? Why do we rush from the sea of our city, to enjoy the waves of one 3000 miles away? Or gaze out to the horizon to wonder what lies at the other end? Or even enjoy to just drive out a 100 kilometer and feel respite. Is it simply fickleness? An inability to be part of a constant scheme?

5 thoughts on “Questions of Travel

  1. escapism? or the belief that life can always get better? chasing the image of a life we have been conditioned to believe is interesting?
    and isn't this wanderlust ultimately a constant too? we probably do end up coming to exactly where we started from…!


  2. It is like this.
    You learn, you know. You visit. You learn more, you know better. You revisit.

    But then you know less. It's never same, never different. Travel is but a mere vehicle. The purpose is evolution of consciousness. Heraclitus said you cant enter the same river twice, jews call it gilgul, bergson called it elan vital, joyce called it metemopsychosis. same, quite same, yet different. The fucking river of consciousness.


  3. Sunil, thanks for sharing the link. It seems like both of them see travel as a imeans of escaping a routine.
    I feel closer to Pico's idea of travel – the nervous edge of the stranger. I like the strangeness of the new land; that is the reason for the unending longing to go to places I have not been before.
    Stream of consciousness: does one really learn on travel? Travel gives more time for introspection and thinking, observing more keenly. But do people walk through deserted mountain roads to know?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s