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A Language for the Exhilaration of Being Alive: The Poetic Physicist Alan Lightman on Music and the Universe

“Nowhere is the joy of existence so apparent as in music… Intelligent life-forms have created a multitude of sounds that express their exhilaration at being alive.” “Matter delights in music, and became Bach,” Ronald Johnson wrote in his stunning 1980 prose poem about music and the mind. This may be why music so moves and rearranges and harmonizes...

Why Are We Not Better Than We Are: How Poetry Saves Lives

“…a stillness in which the germ of what is not yet palpable pauses and gathers to begin one more time.” “A life of patient suffering… is a better poem in itself than we can any of us write,” the young poet Anne Reeve Aldrich wrote to Emily Dickinson shortly before her untimely death. “It is only through the gates of suffering, either mental or physical,...

Eric Berne on the True Meaning of Intimacy, the Greatest Obstacle to It, and How to Transcend It

“A star is the glowing light inside the other person, distantly seen, brave soul’s tiny flame, too bright to approach without great courage and integrity.” We move among surfaces. If we are lucky enough, if we are courageous enough, every once in a while we dive into the depths with another. It is not easy, because even through our best self-awareness,...

How to Bear Your Suffering: The Young Poet Anne Reeve Aldrich’s Extraordinary Letter to Emily Dickinson

“It is only through the gates of suffering, either mental or physical, that we can pass into that tender sympathy with the griefs of all of mankind which it ought to be the ideal of every soul to attain.” “What happened could have happened to anyone, but not everyone could have carried on,” Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Stoic strategy for turning...

Psychedelic Dinosaurs, Four-Dimensional Hummingbirds, and How We Got Our Vision: Color, Consciousness, and the Dazzling Universe of Tetrachromacy

“When we pay attention to other animals, our own world expands and deepens.” Without color, life would be a mistake. I mean this both existentially and evolutionarily: Color is not only our primary sensorium of beauty — that aesthetic rapture without which life would be a desert of the soul — but color is how we came to exist in the first place....

The Milky Way, the Pond, and the Meaning of Life: Thoreau on Solitude, Sympathy, and the Salve for Melancholy

“There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still.” “These are the times in life — when nothing happens — but in quietness the soul expands,” the artist Rockwell Kent wrote as he was finding himself on the solitary shores of Alaska, contemplating the relationship between wilderness, solitude,...

Fantastic Toys: German Artist Monika Beisner’s Vintage Celebration of the Unselfconscious Imagination

“Everything that is possible is real.” A generation before David Byrne illustrated his delightful dingbat history of the future, and three years before the Italian artist, architect, and designer Luigi Serafini created his astonishing encyclopedia of imaginary objects, the German artist Monika Beisner anticipated both conceptual seeds in her 1973...

The Soul, the Universe, and the Vastness of Music: Composer Caroline Shaw Brings Whitman and Tennyson to Life in the Spirit of the Golden Record

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” “After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music,” Aldous Huxley wrote as he contemplated the transcendent power of music half a century before this supreme hallmark of our species sailed into the eternal silence of spacetime aboard the Voyager, encoded...

The Unphotographable #3: Alaskan Paradise with Rockwell Kent

Sometimes, a painting in words is worth a thousand pictures. I think about this more and more, in our compulsively visual culture, which increasingly reduces what we think and feel and see — who and what we are — to what can be photographed. I think of Susan Sontag, who called it “aesthetic consumerism” half a century before Instagram. In a small act...

Nick Cave on Songwriting, the Mystery of the Unconscious, and the Sweet Severity of Truth

“Metaphor can create a merciful sense of distance from the cruel idea, or the unspeakable truth, and allow it to exist within us as a kind of poetic radiance, as a work of art.” “Once a poem is made available to the public, the right of interpretation belongs to the reader,” the teenage Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother upon the publication of her...

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