Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?

Questions of Travel, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, was written in Rio and published in 1956 about five years after she first moved there.

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
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 floor.
(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?”

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After The Storm

By Derek Walcott

There are so many islands!
As many islands as the stars at night
on that branched tree from which meteors are shaken
like falling fruit around the schooner Flight.
But things must fall, and so it always was,
on one hand Venus, on the other Mars;
fall, and are one, just as this earth is one
island in archipelagoes of stars.
My first friend was the sea. Now, is my last.
I stop talking now. I work, then I read,
cotching under a lantern hooked to the mast.
I try to forget what happiness was,
and when that don’t work, I study the stars.
Sometimes is just me, and the soft-scissored foam
as the deck turn white and the moon open
a cloud like a door, and the light over me
is a road in white moonlight taking me home.
Shabine sang to you from the depths of the sea.


I’m Not Quite at Home on Either Side of the Atlantic

German/American writer Rosmarie Waldrop writes about her feeling of displacement between Europe and America

Between

I’m not quite at home
on either side of the Atlantic
I’m not irritated the fish
kept me
a home makes you forget
unaware
where you are
unless you think you’d like
to be some place
I can’t think I’d like to be
some other place
places are much the same
aware
I’m nowhere
I stand securely in a liquid pane
touched on all sides
to change your country
doesn’t make you
grow (a German doll
into an image of America?)
it doesn’t make you change so much
you can’t remember
I remember
things are much the same
so much the same
differences are barbed
I try out living at a distance
watching from a window
immobile
not all here
or there
a creature with gills and lungs
I live in shallow water
but when it rains
I inherit the land

diptych2

Across the Ocean. Kathleen Tompsett. 2012


Home

Home is not always as glamorous as being in exotic places but it feels good and comforting all the same. In his piece, Home Sweet Home, Damien Hirst screenprinted a plate to look like an ashtray, a comment on the gritty comfort of home as well as the fragility of human existence.

Home Sweet Home. Damien Hirst. 1996. Screenprint on porcelain.

Home Sweet Home. Damien Hirst. 1996. Screenprint on porcelain.

Cigarettes are a common motif in Hirst’s work (even after he quit in 2006) which he uses as a metaphor for life:

“For me, the cigarette can stand for life. The packet with its possible cigarettes stands for birth, the lighter can signify God, which gives life to the whole situation, the Ashtray represents death […] being metaphorical is ridiculous, but it’s unavoidable.”