You ask me “why?”—the question seems to burn
like you were made to seek out novelty,
to stimulate your mind, explore, and learn:
exactly why your curiosity
is not so curious at all, to me!
Your brain contains an elemental drive
that underlies a trait to quest and strive.

This craving is the hunger of your mind,
more subtle than your body’s urgent need,
and unlike sustenance, you soon will find
that memories and knowledge won’t recede –
instead accumulate—then freely breed
and shift in shape, a mesh of plasticine,
identity that outranks any gene.

“What is it for?” predictably you ask.
The word originates from care, then cure,
and both illuminate its crucial task:
concern about your world compels a tour;
avoiding harm is vital, to endure.
In either case the knowledge that you gain
is keen equipment, thwarting future pain.

Too often, letdowns—setbacks—injury
will on your sweet serenity intrude!
Respond by stoking curiosity;
do not indulge a dismal attitude,
but rather grow your worldly aptitude
through learning how to render differently
and reckon outcomes more reliably.

Yet even if there is no grievous cue,
it largely pays to be inquisitive
about a topic when it interests you:
done well, and should it seep through Fortune’s sieve,
your research just might prove transformative
with unexpected pleasures brought to light,
a danger dodged, a need secured outright.

A teacher is the answer to your “How?”
Do not assume you know how teachers look,
for I am one, and I am teaching now,
but when alone, your teacher is a book,
(at once repast and remedy and cook)
or written words served as a smaller dish,
or film, or any form of art you wish.

Your greatest teacher is the world itself
and glory comes to those who find her codes;
for she is coy, no book upon a shelf,
and must be queried via crab-walk modes:
your question is, which questions make inroads?
Instruction thus proceeds aesthetically
with obverse strokes of creativity.

Some warning words: from heedless hands comes due
the steep cat-cost of curiosity—
yet like the cat, you might recover too;
though circumspection guides concern, set free
it breeds addiction to mere novelty;
when knowledge turns to dogma strictly true
it shackles life like fauna in a zoo.

In time your probing, literary mind
builds wisdom as it judges right from wrong,
and seeing many ways to live, will find
a purpose that becomes your pilot song;
yet exploration dwells with you lifelong—
your curiosity will spin a tale
worth telling, like a quest to find the grail.



Dave Jilk is the author of two books of poems: Rejuvenilia (2018) and Distilled Moments (2020). His work has appeared in The Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poetry, and won first prize in the Samuel Eells Literary & Educational Foundation graduate competition in both 2017 and 2018.

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7 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    What better stanzaic form than rhyme royal, David, could there be to express and develop a long philosophical exposition? I myself have had a couple such poems published in the past, and Clive James has done it himself more than once. For some reason, the form is well suited to this kind of thing. I don’t know why this is so, but I am reminded that it behooves me to try it again because it worked so well before. Any ideas about that?

    I liked very much your discussion of curiosity. I, too, am quite interested in what I might call essential abstract psychology. Without curiosity, intelligence is shackled, and I might go so far as to say that there can be no intelligence without it. That’s my two cents’ worth on that.

    I especially liked the sieve/transformative rhyme, but I shouldn’t need to remind you that “inquisitive” is not a good third, because all you are doing there is rhyming “-tive” with “-tive.” Anything like “live,” “give” or “shiv” (slang) would be much better.

    • DaveJ

      Thank you for the kind words. This was my first foray into rhyme royal; for some reason I found it more difficult than ottava rima. Perhaps it is the odd number of lines. Though this does amount to a philosophical exposition, it is in the form of an advice monologue, not unlike Chaucer’s Ballade of Good Counsel, which is an early example of rhyme royal. Perhaps that is the connection?

      This poem is actually an excerpt from a much longer work in which the question of what constitutes intelligence plays a major role. Curiosity and novelty play an important survival role in all mammals (at least), as that is how they find food and mates, and there is plenty of evidence in cognitive psychology that without curiosity, intelligence is stunted. For human intelligence, the other essential drive is social interaction, since without that we would not learn language and concepts.

      I am sure you know better than me on the ‘-tive’ rhyme. My understanding of rhyming forms is not deep enough to understand why it is not sufficient that the two words rhyme. My defense would be first, that it is not just ‘-tive’ that rhymes but ‘uh-tive’. Second, in rhyme royal (according to Wikipedia) the stanza tends to be perceived as either a tercet and two couplets, or a quatrain and a tercet. In both those cases the final ‘uh-tive’ is separated from the first, and the perceived rhyme is with “sieve.” But I am just shooting in the dark here since I’m not familiar with the guideline on which you base your comment – please share!

      • DaveJ

        C.B., my curiosity drove me to look into this, and I now understand the issue with the identical rhyme not being perfect rhyme. Thank you – how did I get to this point without knowing that?

        Nevertheless, Chaucer (as best we can tell, inventor of Rhyme Royal) in Parlement of Fouls occasionally uses an identical rhyme or even identical words on the first and third. I will take his precedent as convenient license to do the same in my own work.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Yes, the first problem is the idea of the “identity” rhyme. It’s not that identical words or word-parts do not rhyme, it’s that such rhymes are trivial. A “perfect” rhyme usually involves two words with the same vowels sounds & final consonants, but with different initial consonants (e.g. smart/part or taut/thought) or with no initial consonant at all (e.g. tart/art). In two-syllable rhymes (e.g. trouble/rubble) the heart of the rhyme lies in the stressed syllables. When you try to make a rhyme such as inquisitive/transformative, a couple of things are happening. In both words the major accent falls on the second syllable, so, for instance, “normative” would be a better rhyme for “transformative.” (Yes, I know that “norm-” is the first, not second, syllable, but we are talking about stresses here. The second thing that happens is that in an iambic line, “-tive,” which in normal speech may lack a stress, it is promoted to a light stress: transFORMaTIVE.

        In stanza 7 this idea comes up again where you make the rhyme CODES/MODES/INroads, as “-roads” here is an unstressed syllable. Of course, you are free to make your rhymes in any manner you like, but, in my opinion, a careful rhymer should take these principles into consideration. Many writers, here and elsewhere do not. Sometimes you will read something as egregious as able/awful and be expected to take ble/ful as a decent rhyme, but not on my watch.

      • DaveJ

        Thank you for the detailed explanation, particularly on the element involving stresses. I agree that it is valuable to know the principles; I want my decisions to deviate from formal constraints always to be intentional. In the cases you cite they surely were not.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    David, I love this poem. It reminds me of this Albert Einstein quote; “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing” and your poem explores this very human trait beautifully.

    I particularly like; “This craving is the hunger of your mind,/more subtle than your body’s urgent need” and, for me, the older I get and the more I learn the more curious I become… perhaps these lines should read the other way around in my case lol. But then, there’s the penultimate stanza to consider. I fear I’m on my eighth life and must rein my curiosity in… before it’s too late!

    You have made excellent use of the form, and inspire me to try it for myself. Thank you very much!

    • DaveJ

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And thank you for the Einstein quote, I had not heard that one.

      Apparently in the early 20th century, the older proverb “Curiosity killed the cat” was augmented with “but satisfaction brought it back.” This suggests that rather than rein it in, you should just satisfy it. Of course, there remains Heidegger’s concern about its becoming mere distraction, as suggested in the subsequent lines.


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