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Wintering: Resilience, the Wisdom of Sadness, and How the Science of Trees Illuminates the Art of Self-Renewal Through Difficult Times

“Wintering… is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.”

Wintering: Resilience, the Wisdom of Sadness, and How the Science of Trees Illuminates the Art of Self-Renewal Through Difficult Times

Rilke reverenced winter as the season for tending to the inner garden of the soul: “Suddenly to be healed again and aware that the very ground of my being — my mind and spirit — was given time and space in which to go on growing,” he wrote to a grief-stricken young woman who had reached out to him for consolation. “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer,” Albert Camus wrote a generation later in his stunning essays about travel, which are really meditations on homecoming to our strength. Camus was soon to become the second-youngest Nobel laureate of all time and soon to die in a car crash with an unused train ticket to the same destination in his pocket. We are not invincible. But in how we garden the winters of the soul, we find the summer of our strength and the bloom of our fragile aliveness.

That is what Katherine May explores in Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (public library) — a gorgeous book, a generous book, a layered book of uncommon sensitivity and substance, drawn from May’s own experience of living through a deep and disquieting winter of life. She writes:

[Since childhood] we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.

Art by Valerio Vidali from The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert — a subtle children’s book about honoring sadness.

Like happiness — which, as George Eliot well knew, is a skill we incrementally master as we grow older — sadness, May reminds us, is also a skill: There are self-punishing ways to be sad, and self-salving ways to be sad. In skillful wintering, we learn the difference between the two. Rilke, who wintered amply and wisely, knew that great sadnesses clarify us to ourselves — winters of the spirit come in various sizes and cycles, each meaningful, all cumulative in their soul-sculpting beneficence. May writes:

When you start tuning in to winter, you realise that we live through a thousand winters in our lives — some big, some small… Some winters creep up on us so slowly that they have infiltrated every part of our lives before we truly feel them.

[…]

To get better at wintering, we need to address our very notion of time. We tend to imagine that our lives are linear, but they are in fact cyclical.

This cyclical nature of the seasons of the spirit is counter to our dominant cultural narrative of self-improvement, with its ethos of linear progression toward states of ever-increasing flourishing. It is counter, too, to the world’s major spiritual traditions, with their ideas of salvation and enlightenment. (Any longtime practitioner of Zen or metta meditation, for instance, knows that while we do reach moments of so-called enlightenment — a gladsome dissolution of the self into an all-pervading lovingkindness — these moments are inevitably punctuated by visitations of our habitual tendencies toward egoic shortness of temper, the self-absorption we call melancholy, and other conditioned modes of unenlightened conduct.) And yet befriending this cyclical rhythm of our inner lives, May observes with life-tested clarity, is the key to wintering — to emerging from the coldest seasons of the soul not only undiminished but revitalized.

Ever/After by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)

Drawing on the analogy of tress — these most fertile metaphors for our humanity, in which we see ourselves and see quiet wisdom on how to live with ourselves, on how to live with each other, on the root of authenticity, on what it means to be an artist and what it means to be human — she writes:

We are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.

In one of the book’s wonderful portals into the world of science as a means of comprehending our elemental humanity, May considers the astonishing actuality of trees beyond the merely metaphorical:

The dropping of leaves by deciduous trees is called abscission. It occurs on the cusp between autumn and winter, as part of an arc of growth, maturity, and renewal. In spring and summer, leaf cells are full of chlorophyll, a bright green substance that absorbs sunlight, fueling the process that converts carbon dioxide and water into the starch and sugar that allow the tree to grow. But at the end of the summer, as the days grow shorter and the temperature falls, deciduous trees stop making food. In the absence of sunlight, it becomes too costly to maintain the machinery of growth. The chlorophyll begins to break down, revealing other colours that were always present in the leaf, but which were masked by the abundance of green pigment: oranges and yellows, derived from carotene and xanthophyll. Other chemical changes take place to create red anthocyanin pigments. The exact mix is different for each tree, sometimes producing bright yellows, oranges, and browns, and sometimes displaying as reds or purples.

But while this is happening, a layer of cells is weakening between the stem and the branch: this is called the abscission zone. Gradually it severs the leaf from access to water, and the leaf dries and browns and in most cases falls off, either under its own weight or encouraged by wintery rains and winds. Within a few hours, the tree will have released substances to heal the scar the leaf has left, protecting itself from the evaporation of water, infection, or the invasion of parasites.

Sundown Poem by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)

I have always cherished the bare beauty of winter trees, so fractal and pulmonary against the somber sky — so skeletal, yet so alive. Anyone willing to look closely — and why be alive at all if not to relish the ecstasy of noticing, that crowning glory of our consciousness? — is rewarded with the gasping recognition that the branches are already covered in tiny dormant buds encoding the Braille promise of spring.

May writes:

Most trees produce their buds in high summer, and the autumn leaf fall reveals them, neat and expectant, protected from the cold by thick scales… from the sharp talons of the beech to the hooflike black buds of the ash. Many trees also display catkins in the winter, like the acid-green lambs’ tails of the hazel and the furry grey nubs of the willow. These employ the wind or insects to spread pollen, ready for the new year.

The tree is waiting. It has everything ready. Its fallen leaves are mulching the forest floor, and its roots are drawing up the extra winter moisture, providing a firm anchor against seasonal storms. Its ripe cones and nuts are providing essential food in this scarce time for mice and squirrels, and its bark is hosting hibernating insects and providing a source of nourishment for hungry deer. It is far from dead. It is in fact the life and soul of the wood. It’s just getting on with it quietly. It will not burst into life in the spring. It will just put on a new coat and face the world again.

Art from Trees at Night by Art Young, 1926. (Available as a print.)

Looking back on her own barren-branched seasons of the soul, she reflects:

Here is another truth about wintering: you’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on. And in return, it’s our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us. It’s an exchange of gifts in which nobody loses out. This may involve the breaking of a lifelong habit, one passed down carefully through generations: that of looking at other people’s misfortunes and feeling certain that they brought them upon themselves in a way that you never would. This isn’t just an unkind attitude. It does us harm, because it keeps us from learning that disasters do indeed happen and how we can adapt when they do. It stops us from reaching out to those who are suffering. And when our own disaster comes, it forces us into a humiliated retreat, as we try to hunt down mistakes that we never made in the first place or wrongheaded attitudes that we never held. Either that, or we become certain that there must be someone out there we can blame. Watching winter and really listening to its messages, we learn that effect is often disproportionate to cause; that tiny mistakes can lead to huge disasters; that life is often bloody unfair, but it carries on happening with or without our consent. We learn to look more kindly on other people’s crises, because they are so often portents of our own future.

Art by Arthur Rackham for a rare 1917 edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. (Available as a print.)

The whole of Wintering — which explores the biological, psychological, neurochemical, and philosophical subtleties of our state of being in winter the season and winter the metaphor — is a splendid and soul-salving read. Complement it with Thoreau’s transcendentalist strategy for finding inner warmth in the cold of life, Annie Dillard on how winter awakens us to life, Adam Gopnik’s lyrical love letter to the white season, and D.H. Lawrence on trees, solitude, and how we root ourselves when our worlds collapse, then savor more of May’s writing and the personal story from which it springs in her wonderful On Being conversation with Krista Tippett.

BP

Our Need for Each Other and Our Need for Our Selves: Muriel Rukeyser on the Root of Strength in Times of Crisis

“In time of struggle… all people think about love.”

Our Need for Each Other and Our Need for Our Selves: Muriel Rukeyser on the Root of Strength in Times of Crisis

“My one reader, you reading this book, who are you?” Muriel Rukeyser (December 15, 1913–February 12, 1980) asks with the large forthright eyes of her words in one of the most beautiful and penetrating books ever written on any subject. “What is your face like, your hands holding the pages, the child forsaken in you, who now looks through your eyes at mine?”

It is the summer of 1949. Her life is still only thirty-six years long but thirty thousand years wise. She has lived through two World Wars, has shared a small ship with fivefold the number of refugee bodies the vessel can hold, has been arrested for placing her own solid and unapologetic body on the right side of what is yet to be celebrated and capitalized as Civil Rights, has stood amid the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War and traveled home to tell their story, has staggered the world with her debut poetry collection at only twenty-two and followed it with a thoroughly unexpected sidewise triumph of vision in her staggering more-than-biography of one of the most influential and misunderstood scientists who ever lived.

But it is this book, The Life of Poetry (public library), that is and would remain her elemental statement of belief — a humanistic document for the epochs, a reliquary of rapture, a blueprint for resistance to the thousand desultory derogations by which living can desecrate life.

Muriel Rukeyser

Rukeyser writes in the introduction:

In times of crisis, we summon up our strength.

Then, if we are lucky, we are able to call every resource, every forgotten image that can leap to our quickening, every memory that can make us know our power. And this luck is more than it seems to be: it depends on the long preparation of the self to be used.

In time of the crises of the spirit, we are aware of all our need, our need for each other and our need for our selves. We call up, with all the strength of summoning we have, our fullness. And then we turn; for it is a turning that we have prepared; and act. The time of the turning may be very long. It may hardly exist.

However slow or subtle the turning, the fulcrum by which we turn is love. “In time of struggle,” Rukeyser tells us, “all people think about love” — never more so than amid uncertainty, when the familiar terrain grows foreign and uneven, when the very ground beneath our feet fails to hold steady:

In this moment when we face horizons and conflicts wider than ever before, we want our resources, the ways of strength. We look again to the human wish, its faiths, the means by which the imagination leads us to surpass ourselves.

If there is a feeling that something has been lost, it may be because much has not yet been used, much is still to be found and begun.

Art by Ofra Amit from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. Available as a print.

We have struggled to find this untapped potential, Rukeyser argues, because our standard modes of intellectual probing sidestep the life of feeling, which poetry — “this other kind of knowledge and love” — alone can access and allay:

Now, when it is hard to hold for a moment the giant clusters of event and meaning that every day appear, it is time to remember [poetry], which has forever been a way of reaching complexes of emotion and relationship, the attitude that is like the attitude of science and the other arts today, but with significant and beautiful distinctness from these — the attitude that perhaps might equip our imaginations to deal with our lives — the attitude of poetry.

A generation before Audre Lorde placed at the heart of poetry the courage to feel, from which all power and all change spring, Rukeyser distills the essence of poetry as “an approach to the truth of feeling,” insisting upon its clarifying and cohesionary power:

However confused the scene of our life appears, however torn we may be who now do face that scene, it can be faced, and we can go on to be whole.

As we wade from the chaos without to the cohesion within, this is what we move through and move toward:

The images of personal love and freedom, controlled as water is controlled, as the flight of planes is controlled. The images of relationship… the music of the images of relationship.

Experience taken into the body, breathed in, so that reality is the completion of experience, and poetry is what is produced. And life is what is produced.

In the final pages of the book, Rukeyser returns to what is left as the bedrock of our strength when all falls apart and away:

As we live our truths, we will communicate across all barriers, speaking for the sources of peace. Peace that is not lack of war, but fierce and positive.

[…]

All the poems of our lives are not yet made.

We hear them crying to us, the wounds, the young and the unborn — we will define that peace, we will live to fight its birth, to build these meanings, to sing these songs.

Complement this fragment of Rukeyser’s uncommonly vitalizing The Life of Poetry with Maya Angelou’s poetic consolation for our crises and our contradictions, then revisit Rukeyser on the deepest wellspring of our aliveness.

BP

When Did Time Really Begin? The Little Loophole in the Big Bang

A pleasurable warping of the figuring faculty to contemplate what was there before the before.

When Did Time Really Begin? The Little Loophole in the Big Bang

“Time says ‘Let there be,'” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote shortly before her death in her splendid “Hymn to Time,” saluting the invisible dimension that pervades and encompasses the whole of life: “the radiance of each bright galaxy. And eyes beholding radiance. And the gnats’ flickering dance. And the seas’ expanse. And death, and chance.”

But what does time say of the time before there was anything to let be, the time before being?

“The concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe,” Stephen Hawking wrote in his groundbreaking 1988 book A Brief History of Time (public library) — a work of such far-reaching and lasting impact that it awakened the popular imagination to the fundamental physics of reality and, thirty years later, inspired one of the most beautiful and poignant poems of all time.

In the foreword to the final edition of the book published in his lifetime, Hawking quoted Richard Feynman’s exultation at how fortunate we are to live in an age when we are still discovering the fundamental laws of nature. Inevitably, this means we are still understanding the nature of time. As we come closer and closer to accepting that the universe might be not infinite but finite, and that Einstein’s relativity, as revolutionary as it was, has important limitations, the notion that time began at the Big Bang singularity has begun to dissolve into something more complex — and more thrilling: We might say that in the beginning of time, there was no time; but we might equally say that in the beginning of time, there was only time. (Borges touched the poetic truth behind and before the scientific fact in his exquisite refutation of time.)

In this invigorating PBS segment, New York-based Australian astrophysicist Matt O’Dowd delves into the science and splendor of when time actually began and what that illuminates about the nature of a universe which contains everything we know, including the mind that does the knowing, yet one which we are still getting to know:

In this next segment, O’Dowd considers the possibilities, as presently understood, of what might have happened before the Big Bang:

Complement with science historian James Gleick on how our cultural obsession with the scientific impossibility of time travel illuminates the central mystery of consciousness, then treat yourself to Nina Simone’s meditation on time and poet Marie Howe’s stunning ode to Hawking’s singularity.

BP

Until the End of Time: Physicist Brian Greene on the Poetry of Existence and the Wellspring of Meaning in Our Ephemeral Lives Amid an Impartial Universe

“From our lonely corner of the cosmos we have used creativity and imagination to shape words and images and structures and sounds to express our longings and frustrations, our confusions and revelations, our failures and triumphs.”

Until the End of Time: Physicist Brian Greene on the Poetry of Existence and the Wellspring of Meaning in Our Ephemeral Lives Amid an Impartial Universe

“Praised be the fathomless universe, for life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,” Walt Whitman wrote as he stood discomposed and delirious before a universe filled with “forms, qualities, lives, humanity, language, thoughts, the ones known, and the ones unknown, the ones on the stars, the stars themselves, some shaped, others unshaped.” And yet the central animating force of our species, the wellspring of our joy and curiosity, the restlessness that gave us Whitman and Wheeler, Keats and Curie, is the very fathoming of this fathomless universe — an impulse itself a marvel in light of our own improbability. Somehow, we went from bacteria to Bach; somehow, we learned to make fire and music and mathematics. And here we are now, walking wildernesses of mossy feelings and brambled thoughts beneath an overstory of one hundred trillion synapses, coruscating with the ultimate question: What is all this?

That is what physicist and mathematician Brian Greene explores with great elegance of thought and poetic sensibility in Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (public library). Nearly two centuries after the word scientist was coined for the Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville when her unexampled book On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences brought together the separate disciplinary streams of scientific inquiry into a single river of knowledge, Greene draws on his own field, various other sciences, and no small measure of philosophy and literature to examine what we know about the nature of reality, what we suspect about the nature of knowledge, and how these converge to shine a sidewise gleam on our own nature. With resolute scientific rigor and uncommon sensitivity to the poetic syncopations of physical reality, he takes on the questions that bellow through the bone cave atop our shoulders, the cave against whose walls Plato flickered his timeless thought experiment probing the most abiding puzzle: How are we ever sure of reality? — a question that turns the mind into a Rube Goldberg machine of other questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? How did life emerge? What is consciousness?

Although science is Greene’s raw material in this fathoming — its histories, its theories, its triumphs, its blind spots — he emerges, as one inevitably does in contemplating these colossal questions, a testament to Einstein’s conviction that “every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist.”

Brian Greene

Looking back on how he first grew enchanted with what he calls “the romance of mathematics” and its seductive promise to unveil the timeless laws of nature, Greene writes:

Creativity constrained by logic and a set of axioms dictates how ideas can be manipulated and combined to reveal unshakable truths.

[…]

The appeal of a law of nature might be its timeless quality. But what drives us to seek the timeless, to search for qualities that may last forever? Perhaps it all comes from our singular awareness that we are anything but timeless, that our lives are anything but forever.

[…]

We emerge from laws that, as far as we can tell, are timeless, and yet we exist for the briefest moment of time. We are guided by laws that operate without concern for destination, and yet we constantly ask ourselves where we are headed. We are shaped by laws that seem not to require an underlying rationale, and yet we persistently seek meaning and purpose.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Somewhere along the way of our seeking, at one life-point or another, against one wall or another, we all arrive at what David Foster Wallace, vanquisher of euphemism, called “the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.” Insisting that from that recognition arises our shimmering capacity for creativity, for beauty, for meaning-making, Greene endeavors to explore “the breathtaking ways in which restless and inventive minds have illuminated and responded to the fundamental transience of everything” — minds ranging from Shakespeare to Wallace, from Sappho to Einstein.

A century after Rachel Carson observed (in a trailblazing essay that pioneered the very genre of poetic science writing in which Greene himself dwells) that “against this cosmic background the lifespan of a particular plant or animal appears, not as drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change,” he writes:

In the fullness of time all that lives will die. For more than three billion years, as species simple and complex found their place in earth’s hierarchy, the scythe of death has cast a persistent shadow over the flowering of life. Diversity spread as life crawled from the oceans, strode on land, and took flight in the skies. But wait long enough and the ledger of birth and death, with entries more numerous than stars in the galaxy, will balance with dispassionate precision. The unfolding of any given life is beyond prediction. The final fate of any given life is a foregone conclusion.

Despite how we may distract ourselves from that omnipresent conclusion, we live terrified of our own erasure, but that very terror impels us to more-than-exist — to live, to love, to compose poems and symphonies and equations. With an eye to “the inner life that comes hand in hand with our refined cognitive capacities,” Greene writes:

The mental faculties that allow us to shape and mold and innovate are the very ones that dispel the myopia that would otherwise keep us narrowly focused on the present. The ability to manipulate the environment thoughtfully provides the capacity to shift our vantage point, to hover above the timeline and contemplate what was and imagine what will be. However much we’d prefer it otherwise, to achieve “I think, therefore I am” is to run headlong into the rejoinder “I am, therefore I will die.”

[…]

Perhaps our creative forays, from the stags at Lascaux to the equations of general relativity, emerge from the brain’s naturally selected but overly active ability to detect and coherently organize patterns. Perhaps these and related pursuits are exquisite but adaptively superfluous by-products of a sufficiently large brain released from full-time focus on securing shelter and sustenance… What lies beyond question is that we imagine and we create and we experience works, from the Pyramids to the Ninth Symphony to quantum mechanics, that are monuments to human ingenuity whose durability, if not whose content, point toward permanence.

One of Japanese designer Kumagasa Nagai’s vintage posters of animals and scientific phenomena

One aspect of Greene’s argument, however, deserves more nuanced consideration: Historically, every time we humans have assumed that a certain feature or faculty is ours alone in the whole of “Creation” — sentience, tools, language, consciousness — we have been wrong. Greene makes the baseline assumption that we alone are aware of our own finitude. “It is only you and I and the rest of our lot,” he asserts, “that can reflect on the distant past, imagine the future, and grasp the darkness that awaits.” But what of elephants and their capacity for grief, deep and documented? What is grief if not a savaging consciousness of the fact that death severs the arrow of time, that what once was — living, beloved — will never again be, while we are left islanded in the present, shipwrecked by an absence?

Still, unblunted by this marginal error of exclusivity is Greene’s astute insight into the elemental equivalence: we are doomed to decay, and so we cope by creating. He highlights two factors that jointly gave rise to the self-awareness seeding our terror and to our wondrous reach for transcendence: entropy and evolution. Across three hundred pages, he fans out the fabric of our present understanding, deftly untangling then interweaving the science of everything from black holes to quanta to DNA, tracing how matter made mind made imagination, probing the pull of eternity and storytelling and the sublime, and arriving at a final chapter lyrically titled “The Nobility of Being,” in which he contemplates how these processes and phenomena, described and discovered by minds honed by millennia of evolution, converge to illuminate our search for meaning:

Most of us deal quietly with the need to lift ourselves beyond the everyday. Most of us allow civilization to shield us from the realization that we are part of a world that, when we’re gone, will hum along, barely missing a beat. We focus our energy on what we can control. We build community. We participate. We care. We laugh. We cherish. We comfort. We grieve. We love. We celebrate. We consecrate. We regret. We thrill to achievement, sometimes our own, sometimes of those we respect or idolize.

Through it all, we grow accustomed to looking out to the world to find something to excite or soothe, to hold our attention or whisk us to someplace new. Yet the scientific journey we’ve taken suggests strongly that the universe does not exist to provide an arena for life and mind to flourish. Life and mind are simply a couple of things that happen to happen. Until they don’t. I used to imagine that by studying the universe, by peeling it apart figuratively and literally, we would answer enough of the how questions to catch a glimpse of the answers to the whys. But the more we learn, the more that stance seems to face in the wrong direction.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Echoing W.H. Auden’s stunning ode to our unrequited love for the universe, he adds:

Looking for the universe to hug us, its transient conscious squatters, is understandable, but that’s just not what the universe does.

Even so, to see our moment in context is to realize that our existence is astonishing. Rerun the Big Bang but slightly shift this particle’s position or that field’s value, and for virtually any fiddling the new cosmic unfolding will not include you or me or the human species or planet earth or anything else we value deeply.

[…]

We exist because our specific particulate arrangements won the battle against an astounding assortment of other arrangements all vying to be realized. By the grace of random chance, funneled through nature’s laws, we are here.

In the final pages, Greene both affirms and refutes Borges’s refutation of time, guiding us, perishable miracles that we are, to the wellspring of meaning in an impartial universe and ending the book with the word — a curious word, improbable for a physicist — on which Whitman perched his entire cosmogony:

Whereas most life, miraculous in its own right, is tethered to the immediate, we can step outside of time. We can think about the past, we can imagine the future. We can take in the universe, we can process it, we can explore it with mind and body, with reason and emotion. From our lonely corner of the cosmos we have used creativity and imagination to shape words and images and structures and sounds to express our longings and frustrations, our confusions and revelations, our failures and triumphs. We have used ingenuity and perseverance to touch the very limits of outer and inner space, determining fundamental laws that govern how stars shine and light travels, how time elapses and space expands — laws that allow us to peer back to the briefest moment after the universe began and then shift our gaze and contemplate its end.

[…]

As we hurtle toward a cold and barren cosmos, we must accept that there is no grand design. Particles are not endowed with purpose. There is no final answer hovering in the depths of space awaiting discovery. Instead, certain special collections of particles can think and feel and reflect, and within these subjective worlds they can create purpose. And so, in our quest to fathom the human condition, the only direction to look is inward. That is the noble direction to look. It is a direction that forgoes ready-made answers and turns to the highly personal journey of constructing our own meaning. It is a direction that leads to the very heart of creative expression and the source of our most resonant narratives. Science is a powerful, exquisite tool for grasping an external reality. But within that rubric, within that understanding, everything else is the human species contemplating itself, grasping what it needs to carry on, and telling a story that reverberates into the darkness, a story carved of sound and etched into silence, a story that, at its best, stirs the soul.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Until the End of Time, a splendid and invigorating read in its entirety, left me with the evolutionary miracle of Shelley on my mind — a fragment from the last poetic work he published before he met his own untimely finitude in the entropic spectacle of a sudden storm on the Italian gulf, long before humanity had fathomed entropy and evolution:

Talk no more
Of thee and me, the future and the past…
Earth and ocean,
Space, and the isles of life or light that gem
The sapphire floods of interstellar air,
This firmament pavilioned upon chaos…
This whole
Of suns and worlds, and men and beasts, and flowers
With all the violent and tempestuous workings
By which they have been, are, or cease to be,
Is but a vision: all that it inherits
Are motes of a sick eye, bubbles and dreams;
Thought is its cradle and its grave, nor less
The future and the past are idle shadows
Of thought’s eternal flight — they have no being.
Nought is but that it feels itself to be.

BP

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