“We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.” “Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons,” an English gardener wrote in the seventeenth century.
From black holes to the multiverse, a cosmic comic celebrating the endangered art of human conversation.
“Anger continued on past its usefulness becomes unjust, then dangerous… It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness.
“All truth is comprised in music and mathematics.” Aldous Huxley celebrated music an expression of the “blessedness lying at the heart of things.” Philosopher Susanne Langer considered it “a laboratory for feeling and time,” whose mysterious power both eclipses and illuminates all the other arts.
“There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone.” “The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone,” artist Agnes Martin reflected in her final years.
“That man lives badly who does not know how to die well.” “Wherever life can grow, it will. It will sprout out, and do the best it can,” the poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote in her abiding ode to perseverance.
A tender invitation to fathom the shared cosmic destiny behind our glorious differences. When the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned its camera back on the Solar System for one last look after taking its pioneering photographs of our planetary neighborhood, it captured a now-iconic image of Earth — a tiny pixel in a tiny slice of an incomprehensibly vast universe.
“Scientific advances in basic understanding have sooner or later led to technical and industrial applications that have revolutionized our way of life.” On the train ride home from Thanksgiving with my makeshift family, I sat next to a middle-aged man animated by the barely repressed urge to talk.
“Freedom is always a question of degree rather than an absolute good that we do or do not possess.” “I want to be free,” seventeen-year-old Sylvia Plath declared in a letter to her mother — a yearning that hurled her in the inevitable logical direction of the larger question of what freedom really means and to what extent it is in our possession at all.
“Wonderment is the first passion of all… Those without any natural inclination to this passion are ordinarily very ignorant.” Looking back on his life, the elderly Albert Einstein located his most significant existential turning point in a single moment of wonderment when he was a small boy.
“There’s just no accounting for happiness, or the way it turns up like a prodigal who comes back to the dust at your feet having squandered a fortune far away.” There are few things in life more inconstant and more elusive, both in the fist of language and in the open palm of experience, than happiness.
In praise of the “dainty abandon” that awakens us to wonder and carries us outside ourselves. “Feeling, life, motion and emotion constitute its import,” philosopher Susanne Langer wrote of music, which she defined as “a highly articulated sensuous object.” Although many great writers have contemplated the power of music, few have articulated it more perfectly or more sensuously than Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) does in Specimen Days (public library) — the sublime collection of prose fragments and journal entries, which gave us Whitman on the wisdom of trees and which the poet himself described as “a melange of loafing, looking, hobbling, sitting, traveling — a little thinking thrown in for salt, but very little — …mostly the scenes everybody sees, but some of my own caprices, meditations, egotism.” And what a beautiful, generous egotism it is.
“My uniform is emblematic of my philosophy that people should try to leave the world better than they found it.” “No woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!
“Technics and wisdom are not by any means opposed. On the contrary, the duty of our age… is to unite them in a supreme humility which will result in a totally self-forgetful creativity and service.” “Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent,” marine biologist and poet laureate of science Rachel Carson wrote to her soul mate, Dorothy, before the release of Silent Spring — Carson’s epoch-making 1962 book that catalyzed the modern environmental movement.
An animated journey to the center of the self. “The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use,” computing pioneer Alan Turing wrote as he anguished at the intersection of love and loss.
“It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction.” “And don’t ever imitate anybody,” Hemingway cautioned in his advice to aspiring writers.
“Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” “Someone reading a book is a sign of order in the world,” wrote the poet Mary Ruefle.
A supreme lesson in authenticity from a being “so innocent and harmless, yet so savage.” “When we have learned how to listen to trees,” Hermann Hesse wrote in his lyrical love letter to our arboreal companions, “then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.” Two generations earlier, a different titan of poetic sentiment extolled trees not only as a source of joy but as a source of unheralded moral wisdom and an improbable yet formidable model of what is noblest in the human character.
A choral serenade to the building blocks of language starring Susan Sontag, Iris Murdoch, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates, Martin Amis, Doris Lessing, John Updike, and more titans of literature.
“Sit. Feast on your life.” “The alternations between love and its denial, suffering and denial of suffering … constitute the most essential and ubiquitous structural feature of the human heart,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in contemplating how we know we love somebody.