Building Around a Thing

“I know it when I see it,” said the man
who vainly tried conveying truth to friends.
“When it is absent, the space that it leaves
unfilled describes it clearly, end to end;

and though there are no words to put it plain,
nor etchings I could render without flaw,
there is a quality about a thing
that you would grasp at once, if you just saw.”

“Alas,” replied one listener, “when you speak,
I can appreciate your sense of it;
it vibrates through your being with each word,
as if using yourself as conduit;

but sadly, in the context of your speech,
the futile nature of your quest is seen –
to clothe in logic’s frame that beyond reach
one must assume a great deal in between.”

“And, too,” answered another, “there is this:
that beauty is too frequently construed
to be only one aspect of the whole:
the menu, presentation, or the food;

but when it crosses our familiar lines
and cannot be contained in narrow themes,
the most common reaction is disdain.
We dare not seek for substance in our dreams

beyond those limits, set and firm, agreed
by all to guide where useful knowledge ends.
True, by this means we seem to guarantee
that we are not evolving.” “It depends,”

the first man answered, holding up a rose.
“There are some constants, in spite of our toil
to obfuscate our instinct’s depth of field.
At some point, reason’s gifts begin to spoil

and eat away at simple, common joy.
We lose that sense of awe, and we are doomed
to live as if machines, devoid of cause,
the boxes that we build ourselves, our tombs.

23 APR 2004

When I am working on a problem
I never think about beauty.
I only think about
how to solve the problem.
But when I have finished;
if the solution is not beautiful;
I know it is wrong.

— Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

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