Walking the Broch of Gurness, Orkney

The only thing better than the sites on Orkney is walking to them. Here’s an early morning last September, walking to the Iron Age village, Broch of Gurness. Starting at Evie Primary School, down long roads of heather and noisy cows, around to the Sands of Evie and Eynhallow Sound, and finally to the broch.…

Dante, Through the Fire

Here’s one of the great moments in poetry: Canto 27 of Dante’s Purgatorio, where Dante passes through the fire, and Virgil crowns him on their way up to the summit of Mount Purgatory. This taken from the translation of Allen Mandelbaum, and the Digital Dante site at Columbia University. *** Just as, there where its…

The Corn Mother (Penobscot)

The following is one of the most beautiful stories from myth that I know, collected American Indian Myths and Legends, edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.(The book is part of the Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library, which is usually hit or miss, but this one remains one of the best anthologies of myth…

Picasso & the Gestapo

Here’s a favorite, possibly apocryphal, story of Pablo Picasso (who lived in Paris during the German Occupation) and his great painting, Guernica. The exchange is almost too good to be true, and perhaps nobody but Picasso could have gotten away with it. Whenever volume four of John Richardson’s biography of Picasso is finally released, I’ll…

Egyptian Pyramid Texts

As a companion to yesterday’s excerpts from the Hindu Rig Veda, here are excerpts from religious texts even older than those: the Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt. Beginning in the late Old Kingdom (c.2375-2181 BC), pharaohs had prayers and spells to assist them in the afterlife carved onto the walls of their pyramids—and as you’ll…

Heaney’s Bog Poems

Here’s Seamus Heaney, first talking about his poems on the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, in Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones, and then the bog poems themselves, spanning three of his collections: Wintering Out, North, and District and Circle. Also, since I hope to do a post on the bog bodies at some point, interested…

Stonehenge, Castlerigg, Brodgar

Here are some favorite photos from the Neolithic stone circles of England and Orkney, visited in the last few years: Stonehenge, in Wiltshire Castlerigg Stone Circle, in Cumbria, the Lakes District The Ring of Brodgar, in Orkney As the archaeologists will tell you, these circles of standing stones were intentionally placed in an already sacred…

Allen Ginsberg, “Kaddish”

I’d like to say that after Four Quartets, I don’t know of another long poem from the last century that’s meant as much to me as Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for his mother, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956. But it’s so powerful that even describing it as a poem seems silly: it really doesn’t matter what…