Without poetry, the displays at the California Academy of Sciences are nothing more than quick, fragmented "Wows." "Wow, look at that gecko walking up the glass." "Wow, look at the size of that catfish." "Wow, look at the carbon footprint made by a steak dinner." Certainly, the facts introduce us to the terrain of nature and the patterns of ecology that we must take into account to dwell on earth sustainably. But, the threads of poetic imagination that weave the fabric of life together can take us beyond the isolated view that got us into the mess of pollution and global warming. Poetry can assist us in directly experiencing the integrated whole that makes nature a practical wonder. Precise poetic language opens dimensions of nature that scientific formulas cannot.
Maybe, green buildings could be rated not only on the linear scale of LEED requirements met, but could include descriptions of the their poetic power.
How many sparks of wonder and beauty does the building ignite? In how many places do the walls, roofs and other forms point toward the formless? To the rational mind, this seems absurd. To the poetic soul, this is the genuine substance of architecture that is attuned to nature. If we don't include the poetic eye and heart in our intersections with ecology, our efforts at green building will only result in a new fashion of cages. We'll end up like the panther in the poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
His vision from constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems there are
a thousand bars, and behind the bars, no
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested
plunges into the heart and is gone.