Wonder and the Poet

Wonder has always been a part of my life as a human being and especially as a poet. Surely every human being has experienced this state of mind to one degree or another. By wonder I mean not only intellectual curiosity but being amazed at the very fact that one is alive. How long the odds are that each human being was conceived and born — surely one in a million or more. We’ve already won the cosmic lottery just to be here. Whatever one’s religious or philosophical beliefs may be, we should all surely still wonder about the two great questions asked in one way or another in every generation: (1) Why is there “something” (a universe) instead of nothing and (2) Why is that “something” as it is and not otherwise?

Who can look at the stars on a clear night and not wonder about the origin and final fate of the cosmos and about the human place and purpose therein? Might our purpose be that we are the spirit of the universe rising into consciousness to look upon itself? Poets (and others, of course) have often been praised for being able to rekindle a sense of wonder — to strip away the blinding scales and deadening habits of custom and thereby show us the world as seen through the eyes of a child just beginning to put words and things together. The poem “The Journeying Moon” in my book The Burning Fields (LSU Press, 1991) addresses these questions. There is also the maturer wonder of adulthood when we can speculate philosophically, as Wallace Stevens puts it in the title of his famous poem, on the fact “Of Mere Being” and wonder about wonder itself.

If any of this is worth pondering, I can only wonder how anyone can ever be bored? Just to be alive, and at best for such a short time — our biblical three score years and ten being no more than the twinkling an eye — this ought to be enough to keep anyone in a state of wonder, gratitude, and joy — and feeling very lucky. How to reconcile wonder — if such be possible — with the suffering and evil that exist in the world is another matter.

Recommended: Dennis Quinn. Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder (2002).

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