Danny Yee >> Travelogues >> New Zealand South Island 2002

Experience and Abstraction

During the bus trip from Wanaka to Tekapo, across rolling grey hills with lots of sheep on them, this verse of Emily Brontë's came to mind.

Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.
The full poem is:
Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I'll walk where my own nature will be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

Now this is about choosing feeling over thought and experience over analysis - but to remember and think about poetry is of course to go in the other direction.

I don't know about "paths of high morality", or even "long-past history", vice of mine that it is - for me it is abstraction with which the personal and immediate and experiential always have to struggle. The routine of ordinary life helps me keep that under control, but encountering new places and circumstances all the time keeps my mind working overtime...

There are so many systems and patterns in the world of which we catch but a glimpse. Standing by the crossroads in Hokitika trying to hitch, for example, I couldn't help tracking the traffic flows and wondering how closely the West Coast was tied to Christchurch, and how much of the traffic was tourists, how much local, and so forth.

I kept an eye out for books, but found few to satisfy my curiosity. The histories tended to be biographies of military leaders and explorers, or anecdotal personal or family stories. The biology books were mostly the kind of field guide that helps one do species identification and not much else. And I couldn't find anything to fill out the snippets of information bus drivers had offered about the New Zealand power system.

Still, I'd have the same problem looking here for books about Australia. Why is it that there are so few books on ecosystems? No archaeologist these days would dig up the most prominent monuments and ignore the broader settlement context, but that kind of approach seems common in contemporary history. Is there just too much data for easy synthesis?

Anyway, I think too much, as many of you know.

New Zealand South Island 2002 << Travelogues << Danny Yee