Monthly Archives: April 2010

Walt Whitman

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

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Filed under Ephemeron, Historiography, Poems

Robert Frost

Dust of Snow
by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

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Filed under Bagatelle, Poems, Sureness

John Ruskin

from The Seven Lamps of Architecture
by John Ruskin

It might be at first thought that the whole kingdom of imagination was one of deception also. Not so: the action of the imagination is a voluntary summoning of the conceptions of things absent or impossible; and the pleasure and nobility of the imagination partly consist in its knowledge and contemplation of them as such, i.e. in the knowledge of their actual absence or impossibility at the moment of their apparent presence or reality…. It is necessary to our rank as spiritual creatures, that we should be able to invent and to behold what is not; and to our rank as moral creatures, that we should know and confess at the same time that it is not.

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Filed under Expectancy, Quotes

Wislawa Szymborska

Microcosmos
by Wislawa Szymborska

When we first started looking through microscopes
a cold fear blew and it’s still blowing.
Life hitherto had been frantic enough
in all its shapes and dimensions.
Which is why it created small-scale creatures,
assorted tiny worms and flies,
but at least the naked human eye
could see them.

But then suddenly beneath the glass,
foreign to a fault
and so petite,
that what they occupy in space
can only charitably be called a spot.

The glass doesn’t even touch them,
they double and triple unobstructed,
with room to spare, willy-nilly.

To say they’re many isn’t saying much.
The stronger the microscope
the more exactly, avidly they’re multiplied.

They don’t even have decent innards.
They don’t know gender, childhood, age.
They may not even know they are—or aren’t.
Still they decide our life and death.

Some freeze in momentary stasis,
although we don’t know what their moment is.
Since they’re so minuscule themselves,
their duration may be
pulverized accordingly.

A windborne speck of dust is a meteor
from deepest space,
a fingerprint is a farflung labyrinth
where they may gather
for their mute parades,
their blind iliads and upanishads.

I’ve wanted to write about them for a long while,
but it’s a tricky subject,
always put off for later
and perhaps worthy of a better poet,
even more stunned by the world than I.
But time is short. I write.

Appears in The New York Review of Books, December 17, 2009 (Volume 56, Number 20).  Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak, Clare Cavanagh.

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Filed under Bagatelle, Poems, Praxis