Landscape

I’ve stumbled across the word “landscape” three times in the last 24 hours. Being a synchronicity expert, I immediately noticed the red flag this trifold occurrence had planted in my awareness.

1) In this review of The Secret Life of Words by Henry Hitchings, Ben Yagoda mentions in passing that the word “landscape” was one of a number of words borrowed in the 17th century from the Dutch by English admirers of artists such as Brueghel and Rembrandt. (One can also reasonably infer that “etch-a-sketch” is ultimately traceable to this very same period.)

2) I ran across an online copy of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese and found that it had not been overplayed. It made me cry again. One of the lines that caught my eye this time was:

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes

The use of the plural made me think that a landscape is really the conjunction of a natural (or not) place and a viewer. Any place (and for some reason when I get to this point in Wild Geese I always imagine the badlands of South Dakota ) can hold within itself an infinity of landscapes. And because a landscape includes a particular vantage point, it necessarily separates us. We each see a slightly different landscape even though we are standing right next to each other. Landscapes exist because we are separate and sharing a world at the same time.

3) And finally, I found the word (landscape) in a John Ashbery poem, The Bungalows, in the provocative line:

the presumed landscape and the dream of home

Since I’ve only just read this Ashbery poem (and his poems require several readings for you to fully realize how much you don’t know what they mean) I’ll only point to the imagery of architecture in the landscape and the repeated juxtaposition of past and future, young and old, and the meaninglessness of staying still. The movement necessary for meaning also makes meaning impossible. To view a landscape, one must remain still, freeze the point of view in a frame. When you move (live) you become part of the landscape viewed by someone else (g*d?).

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