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18. A call to live curiously
Permission to take risks, however they manifest in your life.
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” section.
Once you’ve processed that to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only to share my own impressions and reasons for choosing this piece.
may have killed the cat; more likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.
Nevertheless, to be curious
is dangerous enough. To distrust
what is always said, what seems
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
smell rats, leave home, have hunches
do not endear cats to those doggy circles
where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches
are the order of things, and where prevails
much wagging of incurious heads and tails.
Face it. Curiosity
will not cause us to die –
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.
Only the curious
have if they live a tale
worth telling at all.
Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,
are dangerous, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner tables
with tales of their nine lives.
Well, they are lucky. Let them be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth; and what cats have to tell
on each return from hell
is this: that dying is what the living do,
that dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that dying is what, to live, each has to do.
by Alastair Reid, from the collection Weathering: Poems and Translations (1978) and here reposted from Poetry Archive
I love that this poem uses a simple metaphor of cats and dogs, characters everyone can intuitively understand, to make a nuanced point about the way we can live most meaningfully. That is through being open-minded, taking risks, going against the grain, and – for lack of another way of putting it – being curious.
They say “curiosity killed the cat” because that is where the danger lies. We see this in our personal lives as well as the wider world. “Ask[ing] odd questions” out of the norm is often frowned upon. To bend a Japanese cliché, 「出る杭は打たれる」deru kui wa utareru, the nails who stick out are hammered down by the “dogs” of society, those who follow convention without complaint.
Yet, it also remains true that the harder path is the more rewarding one. The cats of our world may “die” – figuratively, spiritually – and it may hurt every time, but the poet-speaker has faith they are strong enough to come back.
I see this poem as a call to action: to live and love more fearlessly and proudly in our truth, whatever our truth may be. “A cat minority of one” can still inspire and change our world.
Alastair Reid (1926 - 2014) was a Scottish poet who lived all over Europe, the US and Galapagos, while spending the most time in New York, the Dominican Republic, and his homeland of Scotland. He published over 40 children’s books, essays, prose pieces, poetry collections, and translations of poetry from South American writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda.
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