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July 1998
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The Man Who Only Saw Bricks

There is an old story, a parable of sorts, entitled The Man Who Only Saw Bricks, that is apropos to discussion of poetry. Like all such stories, the rough edges and the unnecessary explanations have been smoothed away in time by many retellings. If my rendition lacks its artless sublime artfulness, that only reflects my lack of narrative talent, my imperfect recollection, and, of course, the brute fact that the story does not exist.

Three men are walking a street in Kensington when they stop in front of a brick building. The building was an office building of some sort or possibly a relict factory - exactly what it had been and what it was used for now was not clear. The first man, who was of a romantic turn, constructed on the spot an image of a great brick face with gaping empty eyes that exuded a mist of history, a silent witness to untold stories. He went on in this vein with enthusiasm until he was interrupted by the second man who said, "Bah. You see before you bricks and only bricks and that is all." He was, you see, a realist who prided himself on seeing the world just as it is.

If there were but two men we would have a conventional conflict between the romantic and the realist. There was, however, a third man. While the other two were talking he walked over to the building and inspected the brickwork. He interrupted them with a delighted cry. He knew much of the making of bricks, their manufacture and their history, and the bricks comprising the facade were quite unusual. He was, if you will, a man who really saw bricks.

The story draws no moral and I am not sure what the moral might be. It is easy enough to point to the realist and name him as the man who only saw bricks. Still, is it not true that each of them, each in his own way, was a man who only saw bricks?


This page was last updated July 10, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 by Richard Harter

Richard Harter's World
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Essays
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July 1998
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