This anonymous love lyric about the polar regions was set to a madrigal by the composer Thomas Weelkes in 1600. Four hundred years ago, poets had the luxury of looking at the horizon and marveling at what might lie beyond it. We’ve since lost that hopeful curiosity about the external world. The natural wonder of volcanic eruption is now classified as a natural disaster, and the once romantic Andalusian merchant is now seen as a capitalist pig. Having run out of physical space, exploration has turned inward. Thule is now the period of an interior cosmography. We go there not as heroes, but as a collection of anonymous users.
The point of the poem—and I think it endures—is that the commonplace grime and dirt of our own feelings is still more powerful and exciting than the Thule of either cosmography.
Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.