Poetry | Travel

What Place Is This?

This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.
What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
And woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.
– T.S. Eliot, Marina

I’m heading for granite islands and likely a fair share of fog this weekend. In a year of revised expectations, I remain hopeful that this will play out as planned. To travel once again, even if regionally, is a blessing. It’s been a long year, and we’re only 3/4 of the way there still. Local trips sprinkled onto the calendar offer a bit of seasoning when needed. So why don’t we head towards adventure instead of nesting in the house for yet another weekend? Who doesn’t want to be counted amongst the awakened?

This poem begins with a quote from Seneca from Herculus Furens that sets the tone: “Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga? ubi sum? sub ortu solis, an sub cardine glacialis ursae?” which means (I’m told) “What place is this, what region, what quarter of the world? Where am I? Under the rising of the sun or beneath the wheeling course of the frozen bear?”

When you come across a reference like this it confirms that we’re all building off each other, as I read and draw from Seneca so did T.S. Eliot in his time. There’s that Great Conversation turning up once again. And it reminds me that we’re all roughly the same, just born at different times in different places. With different challenges, overcome or overwhelmed, but part of our story either way. Herculus Furens was a tragedy, full of darkness and moral questions. This year seems to be a Seneca tragedy unfolding before us, only partially read. How it ends is anyone’s guess. But I’m an optimist, and hopeful for brighter days.

Quit hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga? The questions of a traveler and also every person living in 2020, not completely sure where they’ve ended up. Or where they might end up. And I find myself asking the same questions, wondering about where I am and, if fortune smiles, the places I will go. And more and more, I look northward for answers.

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