The Poetics of Space

In Spring, I find myself missing home more than maybe I do the rest of the year. Maybe. It isn’t so much about my childhood home, but rather the farm, the river, spring calves, dandelions. In April, play was all about water, about melting snow, of the spring run-off racing to the river, of challenging the depths of this melting snow and fast-moving water, and if my rubber boots would be enough to keep me dry and so often were not. I marked a stick with a red paint and named it Sticky I and marked a second stick with a blue paint, christening it Sticky II. At the top of the hill above the river, at the edge of the ravine through which the water boiled, I released my sticks, Sticky I and Sticky II, and then I raced them to the river. Hours and hours were spent challenging my sticks to see who might be the faster and I’m not sure it mattered who won and during that entire time I was … daydreaming.

I listened in on CBC Radio’s Ideas in the Afternoon while they discussed The Poetics of Space, a book written about architecture by Gaston Bachelard, first published in French in 1958, and later translated into English. The book discussed the idea of the space that feeds our ability and gives us freedom to daydream. The guests on the program discussed Bachelard’s work as an “embodiment of dreams”, a “talisman book”, and “densely lyrical”.

Bachelard was born to a family of shoemakers, and the idea of that sounds almost magical to me. His first job was as a postal clerk, delivering letters. He then studied physics and chemistry before turning to philosophy, the latter of which he is most remembered for. I read the scientific explanation of his thoughts, but I’m not sure I grasped the academics of it. What struck me was the importance Bachelard placed on daydreaming and how essential it is for our well-being. Primary to this concept is the idea of where one can do her or his daydreaming and the architecture plays a significant role.

Bachelard explained the sense of home is what a spirit needs. Home gives us the ability to go out and interact with the world and then go back again to where it is we daydream. I am familiar with that sense of coming in from outside, the wind and rain/snow pounding at me, but as I open the door and step inside, into my own space, where safety and gratitude find me.

Nothing is proven in Bachelard’s book in terms of science and research, yet it has spoken for decades to those from every walk of life, who are searching to understand how we put our memories, both past and present, into our childhood home and carry it along with us.

Many of us will live out our final days in care of some kind, of managed health as we lose our mobility and cognitive abilities, and the book reminds those designing such spaces to remember to consider the spirit of those who are obligated into such confinement. The bed should be a cradle, not a work bench for health care professionals. In most hospital spaces there is no sense of refuge, but instead there is the glare of bright lights and hollow sounds and clanging metal. When we are faced with physical crisis, of loss of home due to war or climate, it is the home that resides within us that helps to keep us alive. And sometimes the “nest” we create for ourselves in adulthood takes us back to a childhood we should have had.

The Poetics of Space has endured because we are all searching for that sense of home and “even in hospice we need to create a sense of home”. The book itself, said the panel, is “a refuge”. In times of world migration, of homelessness, people will want to arrange some few things they have in a specific configuration that helps them recall and helps them to find space, no matter how small and insignificant, to daydream even in the worst of times. “It is the joy of dwelling,” was how Gaston Bachelard described his book.

I go back to one place when I am needing comfort and when I want to daydream, not my bed tucked into the corner of my bedroom, but to the land – the sounds of it, the smells, its constancy in my memories, the river ever present. Even now, forty-eight years after his passing, I place my hand inside my father’s hand, and I am transported home.