“How frail the human heart must be — a throbbing pulse, a trembling thing — a fragile, shining instrument of crystal, which can either weep, or sing.” “Once a poem is made available to the public, the right of interpretation belongs to the reader,” young Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother upon the publication of her first tragic poem.
“The spark from Heaven is given to few — It is not to be obtained by intreaty or by toil.” “Those who work much do not work hard,” Henry David Thoreau observed in his prescient meditation on the myth of productivity and the measure of meaningful labor a century before the dawn of the cult of workaholism, which continues to bedevil us with ever-accelerating virulence to this day.
Ancient allegorical reflections on the universal themes of life, love, time, harmony, and our eternal search for a completeness of being.
“It has always been much easier (because it has always seemed much safer) to give a name to the evil without than to locate the terror within.” “The self,” the poet Robert Penn Warren observed in his immensely insightful meditation on the trouble with “finding yourself,” “is a style of being, continually expanding in a vital process of definition, affirmation, revision, and growth, a process that is the image, we may say, of the life process of a healthy society itself.” Indeed, if the great humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm was correct, as I believe he was, in asserting that self-love is the foundation of a sane society, our responsibility to ourselves — and to our selves — is really a responsibility to one another: to know our interiority intimately and hold our darkest sides up to the light of awareness.
“The universe is itself the glue that keeps it going, therefore it is memory in action and in essence, in becoming and in being.
“A vast, palpable presence seems overwhelming the world. The blue sky changes to gray or dull purple, speedily becoming more dusky, and a death-like trance seizes upon everything earthly.” “What you see in a total eclipse is entirely different from what you know,” Annie Dillard wrote in her classic essay on the otherworldliness of totality.
Parisian misadventures in multitasking drawn from one of history’s great loves. One September afternoon in her thirtieth year, during her first day as an American expat in Paris, Alice B.
“It is the most supremely interesting moment in life, the only one in fact when living seems life.” “Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,” wrote the poet Mark Strand in his stunning ode to what Emily Dickinson termed “the drift called ‘the infinite.'” Hardly any writer has chronicled their own drift toward death with more dignified composure and attentive aliveness than Alice James (August 7, 1848–March 6, 1892) — sister of pioneering psychologist William James and novelist Henry James — in The Diary of Alice James (public library).
“There can be a real meeting between two people at the point where they always felt marooned. Right at the edge.” Of the varied threads of connection that can stretch between two people — threads of innumerable thicknesses, textures, and hues, so difficult to classify and in such constant evolution — which do we get to call “love”?
A lovely Japanese-inspired meditation on what makes us who we are. “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you?
“What you see in a total eclipse is entirely different from what you know.” “A writer is someone who pays attention to the world — a writer is a professional observer,” Susan Sontag wrote in contemplating the project of literature.
“United souls are not satisfied with embraces, but desire to be truly each other.” Navigating the various types of platonic relationships can be challenging enough.
“Music opens a path into the realm of silence.” Some of humanity’s greatest and most fertile minds — including Oliver Sacks, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Aldous Huxley, and Friedrich Nietzsche — have contemplated the power of music, and yet the question of why music moves us so remains unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable.
Work with love, embrace the unexpected, let no one else make intellectual decisions for you, and always remain in direct touch with the fountain-head.
“In a world whose absurdity appears to be so impenetrable, we simply must reach a greater degree of understanding among men, a greater sincerity.” What an astrophysicist might have the perspective to eulogize as “the incredibly improbable trip that we’re on” the rest of us might, and often do, experience as simply and maddeningly absurd — so uncontrollable and incomprehensible as to barely make sense.
Reflections on silence and eternity from the poet laureate of death. “The people we most love do become a physical part of us, ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created,” poet Meghan O’Rourke wrote in her stirring memoir of losing her mother.
“Are we not … parts of a greater organism, kept alive through the ever more vividly circulating blood of an enormous past?
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” In every life, there comes a time when we are razed to the bone of our resilience by losses beyond our control — lacerations of the heart that feel barely bearable, that leave us bereft of solid ground.
“All nature rejoiced, and … we rejoiced with Nature.” Trumpeted by the press as “the great eclipse of the nineteenth century,” the total solar eclipse of August 7, 1869 was the world’s first astronomical event marketed as popular entertainment — not merely a pinnacle of excitement for the scientific community, but a celestial spectator sport for laypeople.
“Do not seek expressions, seek thoughts to be expressed.” A century before Einstein bequeathed his famous dictum that “imagination is more important than knowledge” and Richard Feynman delivered his iconic flower-monologue about knowledge and mystery, not a scientist but a Transcendentalist philosopher-poet, Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862), examined the relationship between scientific knowledge and the imagination in a diary entry found in The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837–1861 (public library) — that timeless trove of wisdom on the myth of productivity, the greatest gift of growing old, the sacredness of public libraries, the creative benefits of keeping a diary, and the only worthwhile definition of success.