Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Did Curiosity Really Kill the Cat?

A 2002 study by psychologists at the University at Buffalo suggested that curiosity is very good for people. The study -- related to the field of "positive psychology" --concluded that the degree to which people are curious actively influences their personal growth opportunities.

One of my favorite college professors was Louis Swartz, a young South African √©migr√© who taught my freshman English Lit class. He loved poetry. Intimately acquainted with its layered complexities, he also loved sharing his enthusiasm -- which is how I came to know Alastair Reid’s poem, “Curiosity,” at the age of 17. Although I did not know it at the time, this poem would become the underlying theme of my nomadic adult life.

Curiosity

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,

leave home, smell rats, 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 changeable, 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.


Alistair Reid (b. 1926)

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