Sunday, December 31, 2017

Given





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By expenditure of hope,
Intelligence, and work,
You think you have it fixed.
It is unfixed by rule.
Within the darkness, all

Is being changed, and you
Also will be changed.
Now I recall to mind
A costly year: Jane Kenyon,
Bill Lippert, Philip Sherrard,
All in the same spring dead,
So much companionship
Gone as the river goes.

And my good workhorse Nick
Dead, who called out to me
In his conclusive pain
To ask my help. I had
No help to give. And flood
Covered the cropland twice.
By summer's end there are
No more perfect leaves.

But won't you be ashamed
To count the passing year
At its mere cost, your debt
Inevitably paid?
For every year is costly,
As you know well. Nothing
Is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first a gift.

The gift is balanced by
Its total loss, and yet,
And yet the light breaks in,
Heaven seizing its moments
That are at once its own
And yours. The day ends
And is unending where
The summer tanager,
Warbler, and vireo
Sing as they move among
Illuminated leaves.


–Wendell Berry
Sabbaths 1998, VI



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tbradford

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

bedside











Because it turns out the world really is a hospital,
Because we had to have had before us a giant pair of scissors
Before four bold wings can have newly ascended,
Before new doors can revolve, before new elevators
Rise and fall empty and full, new numbers light,
New floors with new doors both open and closed
Because there are nurses to sail in and out of need,
Because need walks the doctors somewhere or another,
Because of elaborately adaptable need the bed . . .
The bed could be wheeled right into traffic and snow
Because so far there is only inside and outside
And more of both than even creation could have concocted,
Because the bed that bore us all and our desires
And our exhaustions has become a contraption,
Because the bed that keeps us coming back to it,
The bed that once sailed to the ends of the earth -
Now tied to trees dripping blood and sugar and sleep,
Anchored where overhead a TV persists, such news
As snows poor reception - because the reliable bed
Is something even a family understands, the family
Is how the world goes - a fool's dream of awareness -
Grouped around this steel altar at its least and lowered
Because the bed is a helpless, blameless invention,
All the same to it if it is made or not, empty or not,
Same fatiguing last probabilities, because there are
As many ways to die as people to find these ways
Because there surely are, because the tried is ever new,
Who can't lose their way anew among so many alive?
Because who hasn't made their own bed, because
Who hasn't slept who hasn't been led by night there,
My mother's hands playing the fabric of the spread
As if it were a piano, tongue-tied, isolate fingers,
She's ghost-smoking, working on an invisible crochet
"Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate . . .  I want to die" -
"Wake up!" Machado said the Gospels reduced to
But not now, not until you have what you want -
Any belief in love itself is what I'd have you want -
Look me in the eye with that sort of love that looks
Through me as if grief were so much tissue paper,
With a love that doesn't stop with me or you, that
Doesn't stop when there's no more world to fear
Because there is no need to wheel the bed outside,
Because a hospital melts like a snowflake, because
The walls and windows and even the bed liquify,
Even the things she's seen that aren't there vanish
Because how much energy there is in emptiness,
Take everything away, there's still something there.


–William Olsen



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Matthieu Paley
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Friday, December 29, 2017

people like us






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There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can't remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can't remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It's
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he's lonely, and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death
you're safe.

–Robert Bly



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Thursday, December 28, 2017

morning song





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The red dawn now is rearranging the earth
Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

Each sunrise a link in the ladder
Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

The ladder the backbone
Of shimmering deity
Thought by thought

Beauty by beauty
Child stirring in the web of your mother
Do not be afraid

Old man turning to walk through the door
Do not be afraid


–Joy Harjo
How We Became Human



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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

across space and time







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Everyone knows that quantum physics is weird—but it just got weirder.
Because a team of scientists from the University of Jerusalem have used quantum entanglement to allow two photons that never existed at the same time to communicate with each other.

Quantum entanglement is a weird old phenomena that means some particles, like photons and electrons, can interact with each other physically once, and yet still go on to share states—like spin or polarization—even when they're separated. That's what led Einstein to refer to the idea as "spooky action at a distance", because changes at one point are instantly mirrored in another physical location.

But the University of Jerusalem researchers have gone further, creating a pair of photons that were entangled not across space—but across time. In reality, the process didn't just use two photons to achieve the feat, but rather four.

First, the team used a laser to entangle two photons, call 'em P1 and P2. Then they measured the polarization of P1—in turn destroying it. Then they created a second pair of entangled photons, P3 and P4, and then entangled P2 and P3.

Following all this, the researchers claim that P4 demonstrated entanglement with P1—despite the fact that P1 was destroyed before P4 was even created. The researchers explain:

“In the scenario we present here, measuring the last photon affects the physical description of the first photon in the past, before it has even been measured. Thus, the 'spooky action' is steering the system’s past. Another point of view that one can take is that the measurement of the first photon is immediately steering the future physical description of the last photon. In this case, the action is on the future of a part of the system that has not yet been created."

It's the first time researchers have experimentally shown action at a distance can work not just across space but time, too. Of course, it's not really clear what the hell this finding can be used for—but sometimes science for science's sake is cool. And photons communicating from beyond the grave? That's cool.


–jamie condliffe



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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

joy






all is change; all yields its place and goes. –Euripides c. 416 B.C.E.





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Be patient where you sit in the dark.

The dawn is coming.


–Rumi

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

not nothing





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The death of a fly is utterly insignificant – or it’s a catastrophe.
How much should we worry about what we squash?
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This morning a tiny fly was, true to its name and nature, flying about in the vicinity of my desk. It really was very tiny – a fruit fly, I’d guess. At one point it landed in front of me. I brushed it aside and it resumed flitting about in its patternless path. Then it landed again, and again I aimed to brush it aside. But this time, my aim was off. It was probably a matter of only a millimetre or so, but my finger landed, not next to the fly, but on it, and so what was meant to be a brushing motion became instead a squidging motion.

The fly was so small that it didn’t offer the least resistance to the pressure of my finger. Compliantly, it transformed itself into a dark smudge. Not a gory or bloody smudge; not one with the least detail or variation – not to my naked eye, anyway. Just a small, uniform, rather faint mark.

Now, I’m not a biologist, but I know that a fly is an animal, and more specifically, an insect. As such, it has (or had) wings, legs, eyes, antenna and a host of internal organs. Those parts are in turn made of cells, each one of which is hugely complex. And in those cells, among many other things, are – or were – the fly’s genes, which in turn embody an astonishing intricacy and an ancient, multi-million-year history, while in the fly’s gut would have been countless bacteria with their own genes, their own goals. Worlds within worlds, now squidged together into a single dark smudge that I am already finding it hard to pinpoint among the scratches and coffee rings. A history of life spread out before me, if only I were able to read it.

At this point, I guess that readers will be dividing into two parties. One party, probably the majority, will be thinking, ‘Get over it, it’s a fly.’ This, it seems to me, is a very reasonable position. Flies die in large numbers all the time – some, indeed, at my hand, whether I intend it or not (and I sometimes do). And in the summer evenings, when I sit on our terrace and watch swifts in their spectacle of swooping and screeching, this beautiful display is, of course, at the same time an orgy of insect death.

The other party of readers, probably the minority, will be horrified at my casual killing of this delicate life-form. They will be appalled at the waste and stupidity of my carelessness. To them, I must be an oaf; at best ignorant, at worst malevolent. And this, it seems to me, is also a very reasonable position. Even though I habitually write – sometimes about complex subjects – it is certain that with one mistimed finger-swipe I destroyed complexity and beauty many orders of magnitude greater than any I will ever create.

Thus it seems to me quite reasonable to think that the death of the fly is entirely insignificant and that it is at the same time a kind of catastrophe. To entertain such contradictions is always uncomfortable, but in this case the dissonance echoes far and wide, bouncing off countless other decisions about what to buy, what to eat – what to kill; highlighting the inconsistencies in our philosophies, our attempts to make sense of our place in the world and our relations to our co‑inhabitants on Earth. The reality is that we do not know what to think about death: not that of a fly, or of a dog or a pig, or of ourselves.

Which is a problem, because nature is a streamers-and-all, non-stop, cork-popping party of death. For example, I regularly take my children to a large park with a series of ponds, where in spring we look for frogspawn. This gelatinous broth is a mass of life in the making. Each batch contains many hundreds, even thousands of eggs. The next time we visit, the pond will be full of tadpoles, like a page covered in punctuation marks. But the time after that, there will be many fewer; and the next time we will have to look hard for those metamorphosing mini-frogs, as tiny as keychain toys, some still with their tadpole tails. Those we find are the few survivors, whose numbers will be thinned still more before any get as far as restarting the cycle with their own spawn. The Way of the Frog is to get Death so full at the feast that a few can slip past while he slumbers.

This party of death is, of course, at the same time a cork-popping party of life. For all the tadpoles that perish, some still make it to become frogs, and have been doing so for at least 200 million years. Those that don’t are the stuff of life for countless other creatures, from the littlest insect larvae to grand old storks. Indeed, frogs are regarded as a keystone species, which means that the death of their multitudinous offspring, along with the death that they themselves deal out, is crucial to the flourishing of the community of life. In the language of ecology, life and death are obligate symbionts, each wholly dependent on the other.

We too are built on a bedrock of old men’s bones. Our evolution to Homo sapiens is a product of the endless winnowing out of the unfit and the unfortunate. If some australopithecine apeman or woman had stumbled across the elixir of life, it is very unlikely that you or I would exist. It is worth bowing our heads for a moment to all our ancestors whose passing away made our lives possible.

I was drawn to imagine the great finger coming to squish me, my little life flashing before my bulging, compound eyes.

But here we are – and many people would like it to stay that way. That tadpoles are fodder for pond-life is as natural as the leaves falling on the water in autumn; that flies get squidged is as ordinary as apples rotting in the orchard. One’s own death, on the other hand, seems most unnatural. It seems rather an error and an outrage; a cosmic crime; a reason to raise one’s fist and rebel against the regime that ordered this slaughter of innocents.

But here we are – guests at the party of life and death. We know we must exit along with the flies and the tadpoles. But we would rather not think about it. And that, perhaps, is the problem with my dead fly. When I squidged it, I summoned the Reaper to my desk. If only briefly, I caught his eye. If I had turned away fast enough, the fly’s death would have remained as insignificant as those of its invisible brothers and sisters caught by the swifts. But I was drawn instead inside its tiny head, drawn to imagine the great finger coming to squish me, my little life flashing before my bulging, compound eyes. Through a lapse in my indifference, I was drawn into the catastrophe, drawn to make its death my death.

Veganism, like the Indian religion Jainism and other movements that preach a very purist strain of non-violence to other beings, seems to me a response to this one side of our contradictory perception of mortality – its catastrophic nature. Such movements take seriously the catastrophe that is every single death of every single sentient creature, whether fly, rat, frog or human. And so they say: not by my hands, not on my watch, not if I can help it. They are anti-death movements, whose followers go to great lengths not to squash flies or mosquitoes, let alone have big fat pigs killed on their behalf.

This horror at the death of other creatures is intimately bound up with horror at the prospect of one’s own demise. Flies come and go in countless masses, mostly beyond my sight and care. But when something happens that causes me to empathise, to become the fly, then its death becomes terrible. As the poet William Blake realised when he, too, carelessly squashed an insect:
Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

Some clever research from the field of social psychology has demonstrated a close association in our minds between animals, animal products, bodilyness generally and our own mortality. The upshot is that these things give off a whiff of the Reaper that colours our response to them. The studies are part of a body of work known as ‘terror management theory’, which holds that our world views largely function to help us manage the terror of death. That means all world views: in the case of religions such as Christianity with their promise of eternal life, the link is very obvious, but secular belief systems have their death-defence-mechanisms too, often closely paralleling the religious ones. For example, just as Christians believe they will be resurrected by God, those who subscribe to cryonics – being frozen upon death – believe they will be resurrected by scientists.

Veganism and, to a slightly lesser extent, vegetarianism both follow this pattern, as modern secular parallels of Jainism. Their response to the terror of mortality is to attempt to create a zone of non-death, a zone from which the Reaper has been entirely banished, visiting neither flies, nor rats, nor us. In Jainism, the death-denial element is explicit: your ultimate reward for keeping your hands unbloodied is to become godlike. In veganism, it is only implicit, but nonetheless the religious or ritualistic elements are present: such as in the actions of a friend of mine who, when deciding to become vegan, threw out the half-finished pack of butter in her fridge. What animals were helped by this act, what suffering allayed? None, of course. But it at least banished death from her toast.

I said that seeing each death as a catastrophe seems a perfectly reasonable response, and veganism and Jainism are its logical extensions. They attempt to resolve the paradox by denying the other side, which says that the death of a creature is at the same time insignificant, natural and inevitable.

However, as reasonable as it is to take the catastrophe of death seriously, to ignore the other side of the paradox altogether leads us only into fantasy.

It is the fantasy of a day when (in the words of the Old Testament) ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat’. It imagines a world in which the catastrophe of mortality has triumphed over its insignificance. ‘Then,’ as St Paul wrote, ‘shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory”’, and we all might live happily ever after, flies and all.

Just because nature is a cork-popping party of death does not mean that death is right or good.

But it is a fantasy. We cannot do away with death without doing away with life. In the Natural History Museum in my adopted home of Berlin, there is a glass cabinet in which a lion looks into the eyes of a zebra. They are just a few feet away from each other, with no barrier between them, but this lion will nonetheless never claw at this zebra’s flanks, nor break its neck nor tear out its bowels. They seem instead quite comfortable in each others’ presence, like old acquaintances, reminiscing perhaps about the warm savannah sun. The threat of imminent, violent death has been banished. And that, of course, is because they are filled with cold metal and wood shavings, instead of the hot blood that made them once alive and mortal enemies.

No, we cannot do away with death without doing away with life. And this applies equally to the animals in our charge. The vegan friend who threw away the butter also once said to me that she did not want animals to die because of her. But of course, before they die for her (or you or me), they live. Whether they live well is a very important, but nonetheless separate, question. Caring and campaigning about animal welfare is noble and worthwhile. But abolishing such animals altogether is saying: because I am horrified that they must die, I will not let them live.

It is a well-known fallacy to extrapolate from what is to what ought to be. Just because nature is a cork-popping party of death does not mean that death is right or good. Just because all flies die, this does not mean that my fly deserved what it got when I squidged it. But on the other hand, nature does set limits to what is possible, and perhaps even thinkable. Nature will not tolerate an end to these cycles; it will not tolerate life without death.

There is an equal and opposite alternative to veganism’s insistence on the momentousness of each death, and its ensuing death-denial. We can instead assert death’s insignificance. Whereas in the first approach, each life acquires infinite value such that we dare not let it end, in the second approach, we strip each life of its value so that its end is a matter only of indifference. This approach, of course, is nihilism.

Perhaps death’s relentless reaping should make us question the existence of higher meaning. But who thought there was such a thing anyway?

There is a long tradition of seeing in the omnipresence of death the negation of all meaning, hope and value. It was what the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson meant when in 1849 he described Nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’. He laments that she is ‘so careless of the single life’, then, on considering fossils, how she is so careless of whole species. She cries: ‘I care for nothing, all shall go’, and Tennyson concludes: ‘O life as futile, then, as frail!’

But just as the first attempt to escape the paradox becomes an attempt to deny the undeniable, so does this one. The fact of death does not destroy meaning: indeed, as we pass through the heat of life we cannot help but produce meaning, like a popcorn machine produces popcorn. This is what living things do: they imbue the world with significance and value; for an organism there is always better or worse, relevant or irrelevant; there is always something to do. This is what differentiates us from the rock that is indifferent to being pummelled to sand by the sea.

Perhaps, as Tennyson believed, death’s relentless reaping should lead us to question the existence of some higher meaning – one above, beyond or external to us. But whoever thought there was such a thing anyway? Not the frogs and tadpoles. And not me – yet I’m not therefore tempted to despair, at least not while a good dinner is waiting.

Because life is so teeming with intentions and meanings, the death of each creature really is a catastrophe. But we must live with it anyway: as we saw, the alternative is the most desperate and convoluted of denials.

Once when on holiday as a child, I remember my father wielding some insecticide spray against a column of ants invading our rented chalet. Thinking this looked like a fun thing to do, I took the spray-can outside to the ant’s nest and went on the offensive. To my surprise, my father came out and told me to stop. I had no business killing them all like that, he said. I was confused: my dad was a sausage-eating, fly-swotting man, who had grown up on a farm, and had himself just moments before brandished the same spray-can. But I was also relieved. I was glad that he thought it wrong; I was glad that he thought the death of an ant not only insignificant, but at the very same time a catastrophe.

From the viewpoint of the gods, the deaths of us and the flies are equal in their insignificance.

He did not explain exactly why he thought my ant-hunting was wrong. He did not try to rationalise the apparent contradiction in his own actions with a grand theory. Though if he had been pushed, he might have said: we cannot stop Death from going about his business; and we oughtn’t pretend that sparing the ants (or the flies or the butter) will keep him from our door; but we need not rush to be his foot soldiers either.

Those hoping that I would resolve this paradox might now be getting a little anxious, as we are reaching the penultimate paragraph with no solution in sight. But it should be clear by now that I do not believe there is a solution. I believe that the death of the fly was both insignificant and a kind of catastrophe. And I believe that about the deaths of frogs and pigs too, and about my own death, and yours.

This, as Shakespeare knew, is the source of tragedy: ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,’ said the much-suffering Gloucester in King Lear. The boys are wanton because the death of any creature, even a fly, is a catastrophe; but at the very same time, from the viewpoint of the gods, the deaths of us and the flies are equal in their insignificance.

Philosophers academic and amateur – which is to say, pretty much all of us – prefer to think that paradoxes must have solutions, that they are somehow just the wrong way of looking at things, or a muddle of grammar and syntax. But not this one. It is, as far as I can see, part of the nature of things. To take both sides seriously and to seek some way to live with them is part of what it is to be human; part of what it means to be a guest at the party of life and death.


–Stephen Cave
25 July 2014



Stephen Cave is an English philosopher and journalist. His latest book is Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization (2012).
He lives in Berlin.


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Saturday, December 23, 2017

love letter





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Friday, December 22, 2017

Atlantis, excerpt





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2.  Reprieve

 
I woke in the night
and thought, It was a dream,

nothing has torn the future apart,
we have not lived years

in dread, it never happened,
I dreamed it all. And then

there was this sensation of terrific pressure
lifting, as if I were rising

in one of those old diving bells,
lightening, unburdening. I didn't know

how heavy my life had become - so much fear,
so little knowledge. It was like

being young again, but I understood
how light I was, how without encumbrance, -

and so I felt both young and awake,
which I never felt

when I was young. The curtains moved
- it was still summer, all the windows open -

and I thought, I can move that easily.
I thought my dream had lasted for years,

a decade, a dream can seem like that,
I thought, There's so much more time ...

And then of course the truth
came floating back to me.

You know how children
love to end stories they tell

by saying, It was all a dream? Years ago,
when I taught kids to write,

I used to tell them this ending spoiled things,
explaining and dismissing

what had come before. Now I know
how wise they were, to prefer

that gesture of closure,
their stories rounded not with a sleep

but a waking. What other gift
comes close to a reprieve?

This was the dream that Wally told me:
I was in the tunnel, he said,

and there really was a light at the end,
and a great being standing in the light.   

His arms were full of people, men and women,
but his proportions were all just right - I mean

he was the size of you or me.
And the people said, Come with us,

we're going dancing. And they seemed so glad
to be going, and so glad to have me   

join them, but I said,
I'm not ready yet. I didn't know what to do,

when he finished,
except hold the relentless

weight of him, I didn't know
what to say except, It was a dream,

nothing's wrong now,
it was only a dream.


 
–Mark Doty
Atlantis: Poems




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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

listen





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Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.

–Ludwig Wittgenstein


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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What cannot be said will be wept. —Sappho, Fragments (ca. early 6th century BC)





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"My heart is so small
it's almost invisible.
How can You place
such big sorrows in it?"


"Look," He answered,
"your eyes are even smaller,
yet they behold the world."



–Rumi


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Sunday, December 17, 2017

a home in dark grass






 
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In the deep fall, the body awakes,
And we find lions on the seashore—
Nothing to fear.
The wind rises, the water is born,
Spreading white tomb-clothes on a rocky shore,
Drawing us up
From the bed of the land.

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up on great roots;
Like mad poets captured by the Moors,
Men who live out
A second life.

That we should learn of poverty and rags,
That we should taste the weed of Dillinger,
And swim in the sea,
Not always walking on dry land,
And, dancing, find in the trees a saviour,
A home in the dark grass,
And nourishment in death.


–Robert Bly
Stealing Sugar from the Castle



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()
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Saturday, December 16, 2017

in praise of mortality, excerpt






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Earth, isn't this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there's nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want that too. Believe me,
no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over - even one flower
is more than enough. Before I was named
I belonged to you. I seek no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.



–Rainer Maria Rilke



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Friday, December 15, 2017

again and again






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Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

–Rainer Maria Rilke


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Thursday, December 14, 2017

listen

 



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There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. 
As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. 

The wise are not deluded by these changes. 


–The Bhagavad Gita


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

After Visiting Hours







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All unnecessary weight is eliminated. . . . Even the brain cells needed for song are lost and replaced seasonally in some birds.
All the Birds of North America, p. 63

...


At midnight, in the sunroom of the ward,
when you’re locked in your pajamas, stupid
with heartbreak, and your throat a frozen stream,
you’ll read how birds in winter lose their minds,
or lose that part that urges them to sing—
each glad cell dying in the blood, until
they know no love but the sparse, sterile seed,
the bitter pills that fatten and preserve
their hearts against this thoughtless cold, this dark.

And yet they seem at peace with this: they love,
they turn away from love, they wait for love
to come for them again, and trusting, sing
the song they knew was gone for good—I knew
you’d come back, I knew it, I knew you’d come.










Sunday, December 10, 2017

Late Ripeness







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Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.


One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.


And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.


I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.


We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.


We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.


Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago -
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.


I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.


–Czeslaw Milosz


 
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Saturday, December 9, 2017

the day you die is like any other day but only shorter –Beckett






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“Before you go,” said Mr. Kelly, “you might hand me the tail of my kite. Some tassels have come adrift.”

Celia went to the cupboard where he kept his kite, took out the tail and loose tassels and brought them over to the bed.

“As you say,” said Mr. Kelly, “hark to the wind. I shall fly her out of sight tomorrow.”

He fumbled vaguely at the coils of the tail. Already he was in position, straining his eyes for the speck that was he, digging in his heels against the immense pull skyward …


–Samuel Beckett
Murphy, 1938



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Friday, December 8, 2017

lucky



 

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We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, 'the present century'. Interestingly, some physicists don't like the idea of a 'moving present', regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book . . . What I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.


–Richard Dawkins