In "Geography Lesson," poet Zulfikar Ghose uses the perspective of a jet’s ascent to make philosophical observations about human society and its division, providing a critique of mankind's conflicts.
The poem begins with the jet's liftoff when it becomes apparent why a city, which seems disordered on the ground, has evolved the way it has. From the sky, the city appears meticulously planned and possibly beautiful.
Then, the jet ascends to ten thousand feet, and the poem unveils the logic of geography, demonstrating why human settlements intrinsically tend to develop around rivers and in valleys—the life-sustaining resources of water and fertile lands essential for survival and growth of civilization.
As the jet climbs six miles high, the curvature of the Earth becomes discernible, asserting its spherical shape and revealing the plethora of oceans separating the land masses. Here the poet commences his critique of human behaviour, questioning the reasons why people, despite living on a remarkably interconnected planet, have built barriers among themselves, leading to hatred and conflict. He presents this as an unfortunate and incomprehensible paradox—while humans are intrinsically drawn to live together (cities by the rivers, valleys filled with people), they constantly find reasons to separate themselves through conflict and violence.
The final lines in the poem offer a poignant commentary. From the jet's great height, the reasons behind human pettiness, hatred, and the urge to cause harm to one another become quite unclear. Ghose wonders why people build walls, both literal and metaphorical, across cities or maintain divisions when pictured from a distance. Humanity lives on a small, fragile planet cradling a shared existence. In the vast backdrop of the universe, these divisions and conflicts seem both trivial and self-destructive.
In summary, "Geography Lesson" delivers a profound analysis of the strange dichotomy of human nature. Despite the natural need for societal proximity and cohesion for survival, we create divisions and conflicts, which from a more extensive, universal perspective, appear meaningless and destructive. The geographical metaphor embedded in the poem skillfully highlights this human paradox and leaves the reader in deep contemplation about the nature of human societies and their self-made divisions.