Wallace Stegner on topophilia (love of place)

Two-Field Farm

Two Field Farm, Massachusetts

Auden used the term topophilia (love of place) in an introduction to a book of poems by fellow British poet and broadcaster John Betjeman, who loved the countryside and old churches.

At the end of his life Wallace Stegner wrote critically about the American tendency to disregard places in favor of frenetic movement, here and there. Stegner was not a poet but he knew that a deep understanding of a place required the art of a poet.

…in our displaced condition we are not unlike the mythless man that Carl Jung wrote about, who lives “like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary human society. He…lives a life of his own, sunk in a subjective mania of his own devising, which he believes to be the newly discovered truth.”

No place, not even a wild place, is a place until it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry. What Frost did for New Hampshire and Vermont, what Faulkner did for Mississippi and Steinbeck for the Salinas Valley, Wendell Berry for his corner of Kentucky, and hundreds of other place-loving people, gifted or not, are doing for places they were born in, or reared in, or have adopted and made their own.

Neither the country nor the society we built out of it can be healthy until we stop raiding and running, and learn to be quiet part of the time, and acquire the sense not of ownership but of belonging. p. 205-206

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