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Undoing as Remaking: How Abraham Lincoln Drew Poetry and Power from His Suicidal Depression

Life-affirming inspiration from a man who knew intimately “that intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death.” “I am now the most miserable man living,” Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809–April 15, 1865) wrote to his law partner three weeks before his thirty-third birthday....

The Four Buddhist Mantras for Turning Fear into Love

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer that person is your presence.” “Fearlessness is what love seeks,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her magnificent early work on love and how to live with fear. “Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is...

American Utopia: Maira Kalman’s Spare Visual Poems Drawn from David Byrne’s Masterpiece of Anticynical Humanism

A painted dance in praise of the best we can do. In the final years of a long life animated by optimism as a catalyst of democracy and the spring of action toward justice, Walt Whitman’s aged baritone unspools from the only surviving recording of his voice to read a verse from one of his last poems, envisioning America as a “centre of equal daughters,...

Alain de Botton on Emotional Generosity and the Difficult, Largehearted Art of Charity of Interpretation

How to master a singular flavor of kindness we rarely afford others but always demand for ourselves. Goethe, who lived and died by the indivisibility of art and life, insisted that we ought to treat the works of others, however imperfect, the way we treat their actions — with “a loving sympathy.” And yet one of the most damning paradoxes of our...

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse: Comedian Chuck Nice Reads Billy Collins’s Ode to the Quiet Wellspring of Gratitude

…with a funny and poignant meditation on the personal gravity of gratitude and why being grateful is “one of the most powerful things that any one person can do.” “I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful...

Creativity, the Commonplace, and the Cosmos: Joseph Cornell’s Formative Visit to the Hayden Planetarium

Perspectival awakenings in the “blue dome, silhouetted city sky-line fringing it, and the gradual appearance of all the stars in the night sky to music.” In the spring of 1919, as the world was shaking off the debris and despair of its first global war, the queer Quaker astronomer Arthur Eddington left England to traverse seas and meridians and blood-stained...

The Lost Spells: A Rewilding of the Human Heart in a Lyrical Illustrated Invocation of Nature

From the owl to the oak, a painted benediction of the wild world. “A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,” the young Walt Whitman sang in one of the finest poems from his Song of Myself — the aria of a self that seemed to him then, as it always seems to the young, infinite and invincible. But when a paralytic stroke felled...

250-year-old Natural History Illustrations of Some of Earth’s Strangest, Sweetest, and Most Otherworldly Creatures

An illustrated celebration of the living wonders of land, sea, and sky by a self-taught young man who went on to become one of the greatest natural history artists of all time. If the legendary nanogenarian cellist Pablo Casals was right, as I trust he was, that working with love prolongs your life, and if Walt Whitman was right, as I know he was,...

Muriel Rukeyser on the Wellspring of Aliveness and the Shared Source of Our Confusion and Our Power in Times of Turmoil

“Whatever has happened, whatever is going to happen in the world, it is the living moment that contains the sum of the excitement, this moment in which we touch life and all the energy of the past and future.” It is such delicate work, such devoted work, the work of contouring the personhoods of persons who have imprinted the world with nothing less...

Walt Whitman on What Makes a Great Person and What Wisdom Really Means

“The past, the future, majesty, love — if they are vacant of you, you are vacant of them.” Twenty-four centuries after Pythagoras contemplated the purpose of life and the meaning of wisdom as he coined the word philosopher to mean “lover of wisdom,” Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) contemplated the meaning of personhood and the measure...

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