Canto

In deserted woods with thee, my God,

Where human footsteps never trod,
How happy I could be!
Thou my repose from care, my Light,
Amidst the darkness of the night,
In solitude my Company.

—attributed to Propertius,
an ancient poet.

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Souvenir de Venise, 1978–1978.
Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

"The Cell in Berkeley Castle, where Edward II was murdered in 1327."
Photographed by Tim Davies (Flickr).
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There is a subtle state most dedicated urban walkers know, a sort of basking in solitude – a dark solitude punctuated with encounters as the night sky is punctuated with stars. In the country one’s solitude is geographical – one is altogether outside of society, so solitude has a sensible geographical explanation, and then there is a kind of communion with the nonhuman. In the city, one is alone because the world is made up of strangers, and to be a stranger surrounded by strangers, to walk along silently bearing one’s secrets and imagining those of the people one passes, is among the starkest of luxuries. This uncharted identity with its illimitable possibilities is one of the distinctive qualities of urban living, a liberatory state for those who come to emancipate themselves from family and community expectation, to experiment with subculture and identity. It is an observer’s state, cool, withdrawn, in with senses sharpened, a good state for anybody who needs to reflect or create. In small doses melancholy, alienation, and introspection are among life’s most refined pleasures. (186)

—Rebecca Solnit, The Solitary Stroller and the City
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    Vega nightfishes in the Great Sky River. Copyright © 2021

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