Tao Te Ching #4: “The Way is unimpeded harmony”

The Way is unimpeded harmony; its potential may never be fully exploited. It is as deep as the source of all things: it blunts the edges, resolves the complications, harmonizes the light, assimilates the world. Profoundly still, it seems to be there: I don’t know whose child it is, before the creation of images. – Thomas Cleary   The Tao […]

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Tao Te Ching #3: “Not exalting cleverness”

Not exalting cleverness causes the people not to contend. Not putting high prices on hard-to-get goods causes the people not to steal. Not seeing anything to want causes the mind to be confused. Therefore the government of sages empties the mind and fills the middle, weakens the ambition and strengthens the bones, always keeping the people innocent and passionless. It […]

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Week of the Bomb: Thursday

What to make of any of these voices? This week’s posts—the words not of those protesting the bomb after, but of those who made and decided to use it—are the sum of something I have wanted to put together, quite literally, for years, and talking with my wife about each of them has convinced me that I have to at […]

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Week of the Bomb: Wednesday

Finally, voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When The New Yorker dedicated its entire August 31, 1946 issue to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the editors wrote that they did so “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of […]

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Week of the Bomb: Tuesday

Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project had families in Europe, or were refugees from Europe themselves, and so the atomic bomb they were helping to make had an obvious adversary in mind. When Germany surrendered, however, many felt much less animus against Japan, and in part this conflict is narrated in the voices below. Also included […]

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Week of the Bomb: Monday

Impossible decisions remain impossible, even after they’ve been made. Following on yesterday’s post, here are the voices of those scientists and politicians who admitted the horror of the atomic bomb, but saw its creation and deployment as unavoidable; who felt caught up and even powerless in the equally inevitable march of scientific discovery; those who naively thought that such a […]

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Week of the Bomb: Sunday

With the anniversary of the Trinity Test just passed, and the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming up, I realize the atomic bomb has been following me for years. The first book of poetry I ever owned was the anthology Atomic Ghosts, which featured dozens of poets responding to the nuclear age; and after I first moved away from home to […]

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Tim Miller (Bog Poems)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
LAST MEAL Their stomachs a bestiary only of grain during a time of feasting and boasting and meat, bellies a mush with the barely digested gruel of barley and rye and buttercup, goosefoot and hawksbeard, linseed and clover and knotweed, with spelt and yarrow all a last gnarl or bit of weight above the waist,…

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Don’t Be Such a Boar

After receiving an email from a reader interested in the mythology surrounding bears, I remembered my own obsession with the boar. This was written some time ago, and one day will hopefully be expanded for a small illustrated book. Forgive the in-line citations, which may be an eyesore, but it would take too long to turn them into footnotes. The […]

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Heaney’s Bog Poems (Forerunners)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
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…

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Virginia Slachman: Eden Park Meditation

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Eden Park Meditation i How odd that the days lengthen; the hours braced against a brittle sun that sears the lip of ice at the base of the black oak.                                          The ice and the sun are opaque and impenetrable, a sealed world. This world. The days don’t dwindle into twilight but linger so silently we hardly notice the future in these perplexed angles of light.                         Later, at the feet of the boxwood, night rustles anxiously, or is it merely the wind. No, there are certain tensions. The night wants what it is owed. ? ii Mornings, I walk the circular pond and the pond stares back. I won’t go near enough to see the distorted reflection staring up at me                                                          The sky is there; clouds shunt past, rapid as recognition, the sky a blank eye as is the sun. I stand at the edge, I am                                                                  a poor lot, my mind sees nothing useful. Not the world as it is, darkling sense, dear winged plume of thought . . . the pond and what is reflected–images of light on a blinded eye. What makes us think the water will tell us what it holds. ? iii Year after year the same: winter rushing towards us in a cool, blue cloak, pale and in a chilled clarity: Through the trunks of the thickest oak the day goes forward and that one wood thrush,…

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What’s a Genius to Do?

It’s been said of Picasso: “At the age of sixteen, he produced two paintings which were of academic perfection…. So what do you do with your life if you’re producing academically perfect works at the age of sixteen? Every step afterwards is an innovation.” Indeed, whether you like where Picasso went or not, it’s undeniable that he never stopped moving. […]

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On Friendship

I’ve been trying for ages to write about a friend from many years and cities and jobs ago, and the questions that have always trailed out from his story are, What do we owe our friends and family? What do we owe to the people we love? What kind of difference can we make in their lives? This friend had […]

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To Criticize the Critic

What use does criticism serve, if any? I’m thinking here of the reviews of books, movies, or music, whether the smallest notices in newspapers on up to book-length studies. Do some of us genuinely enjoy a good suggestion? Have we found a handful of voices that we trust, that feel like a friend, and so we’re likely to see or […]

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Go Ahead and Fuck Up

Not sure who the equivalent is for you, but Albert Camus was one of the first authors I found outside of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The high school teacher who introduced me to him also laid an egg it took years to get over: the apparently insurmountable gulf between “popular” and “serious” literature; and so even more than other […]

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Prufrock & Other Observations (Forerunners)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
A hundred years ago, in June of 1917, the small Egoist Press in Bloomsbury, London, issued a book of poems by the American expatriate, T. S. Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations. Much like trying to read the Bible after a religious upbringing, it is almost impossible now to read especially the first four poems—“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Portrait of a Lady,” “Preludes,” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”—without reference to the veneer, reputation, and sometimes repudiation, that have attached themselves to Eliot in the century since. (And many of the remaining poems make you wonder why that reputation took hold at all.) But here are all twelve of them. What an odd bird the book was then, and how strange so much of it still seems now. ? The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse A persona che mai tornasse al mondo, Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse. Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo. Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an…

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Robinson Jeffers (Forerunners)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Remember when poets made the cover of Time? It’s too bad the reputation of?Robinson Jeffers has pretty much disappeared; but read any of the following poems aloud and see if you don’t hear something brutal, beautiful, and essential. While he?seems to have staked his reputation on the longer narratives that pretty well fill his Collected Poetry, it’s his small, powerful lyrics that strike me as being as good as anything ever written. INSCRIPTION FOR A GRAVESTONE I am not dead, I have only become inhuman: That is to say, Undressed myself of laughable prides and infirmities, But not as a man Undresses to creep into bed, but like an athlete Stripping for the race. The delicate ravel of nerves that made me a measurer Of certain fictions Called good and evil; that made me contract with pain And expand with pleasure; Fussily adjusted like a little electroscope: That’s gone, it is true; (I never miss it; if the universe does, How easily replaced!) But all the rest is heightened, widened, set free. I admired the beauty While I was human, now I am part of the beauty. I wander in the air, Being mostly gas and water, and flow in the ocean; Touch you and Asia At the same moment; have a hand in the sunrises And the glow of this grass. I left the light precipitate of ashes to earth For a love-token. ?…

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Kitty Coles (6 Poems)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Black Moon Season for walking out into white frost under the black moon. Feeling the grass bend, the cold enfold flesh, the dark draw closer. Scenting the wet earth, lying fallow: ice has its own smell. Tasting night on the tongue, cobwebby, thin, and the mouth’s own heat. Watching the breath steam, cloudy, abundant, twining with old leaves. Hearing the silence staking its own claim. Then – the keen owl cry sadly to fierce stars as once the wolves cried, walking here also. ? ? Daylight Fox We watch her circle the house, crouched low to the ground. Her hollow flanks flutter, in out, in out, and her fur, black-tipped, as if charred, shivers with them. She has sensed the warmth of breath, the throb of a heart. She has scented the rust of blood, its salt abundance. Her doggish ears tense forward. Her gilt eyes narrow. Her pulse comes fast and feet shift slowly, slowly. And we, behind the window, observe her progress, her imperceptible and ceaseless movement, and wonder where the thing she stalks is waiting, living and trembling, waiting for its death. ? ? The Girl Of Wood A quiet girl, this one: sometimes, she mutters, hushy and breathless, gibberish of her own, or groans deeply, on an autumn evening, her feet encased by damp, her hair wind-blown. A sturdy girl, this one, phlegmatic, stocky, her movements reluctant, her broad feet planted…

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Michael McGill (5 Poems)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Documentary A woman in a documentary is frozen in my mind. She stands behind an asylum window and whispers in a foreign language. The subtitle below her reads, “Please let me out of here.” She is framed by the subtitle; framed by the edit of her portrayal. Finally, she is framed by the asylum itself.…

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Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Forerunners)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Many thanks to David Cooke for contributing this week’s Forerunner, and it’s quite a treat. Below he has recorded a good portion of two Anglo-Saxon poems, “The Ruin” and “The Seafarer” in the original Old English. Also included is the original text, an English translation and, following “The Ruin,” David Cooke’s response to the poem,…

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New Poetry Series

To celebrate Walt Whitman’s birthday today, S4N Books is announcing their new series, Pocket Poems. It will feature classic long poems and books of poetry in small pocket-sized editions. The first three volumes are now available: the 1855 and 1892 editions of Whitman’s Song of Myself, and Alfred Tennyson’s elegy, In Memoriam. Future titles will include books by William Wordsworth, […]

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J. S. Belote (5 Poems)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Boriska Snowmelt mangles gray potato fields, oxcarts rot & sink by dung heaps, & month after month the heaps rise—   I don’t care. Again the sky is opaque. &, still, wizened, Andrei goes on painting icons. In one he gives Christ a cloak the color of earth. He hangs it nonchalantly over His left…

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David Cooke (6 Poems)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Gold Its lack of reaction has made it unique, that and the way it can magnetize fools: forty-niners, Midas, the futures mob— so gung ho, yet always dazzled by it, like urchins dreaming of gilded pavements. Locked in a vault, it validates paper. It’s what the rich cling to when the bubble bursts, smiling at…

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New Poetry Blog

I’m happy to announce the launch of a new poetry blog I’ll be editing, Underfoot Poetry. It will include original, unpublished work from poets around the world, as well as a series I call Forerunners, featuring influential poetry from the past. The first installments of both are up right now: six new poems from the British poet Daniel Paul Marshall, […]

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Is Shakespeare Just “Okay”?

Heresy of heresies perhaps, but is Shakespeare just “okay”? I love the idea of Shakespeare, and how enthusiastic actors get about him (Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey have both made wonderful documentaries about their affection for Richard III). I love reading about Shakespeare and imagining the life we know so little about, like those sixteen months that somehow gave us […]

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The State of Poetry Now?

Are poets today largely talking to themselves? Are many of them happy to do so, locked away in academia or whatever other cloister? Are the ones who want a wider public, and who want to take on larger subjects, just curating their shelf of books for future generations to find? I heard somewhere that after September 11, Bruce Springsteen was […]

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“To the House of the Sun”: Review

The historian, medievalist, and poet Jeff Sypeck has just published the most thorough review yet of my long poem, To the House of the Sun. The highlights are pasted below, but I encourage anyone to read the entire review here. And while you’re there, check out the rest of his blog, where he writes about other long poems, and all things medieval. Autographed copies of the book are still available here at a steep discount; simply choose the seller S4N Books. *** […] Tim Miller has joined a select group of quirky poets who feel called to contend with a neglected form, the book-length narrative poem, and what he does with it is brilliant. […] To the House of the Sun evokes millennia of faith, storytelling, and scholarship simply by committing to its orthography: from its first lines, it looks like the typed-up notes of a young scholar seized by inspiration as he transcribes and translates a cryptic inscription. Look closer, though, to see the designs of a careful poet: these lines mark where the singer’s words intersect time; alliteration evokes a sense of place (“the sands of Savannah facing the sea”); and psalmic repetition gives them incantatory power, affirming poetry’s roots in enchantment. This could be Gilgamesh, King David, or Hildegard of Bingen, and Miller honors that ageless mysticism here. To the House of the Sun sounds and feels like an ancient text, layered with fragments of sources and traditions, a […]

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Green waves of long old life (3 New Poems)

Many thanks to Sam Smith, editor of the Welsh magazine The Journal (formerly Of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry), for publishing three of my poems from Old Europe. Those outside the UK cannot subscribe, so I include a screenshot of my page below, but I would UK readers to check out the print edition. Other poems from this collection can be found […]

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To the House of the Sun: A Poem by Tim Miller

Buy the book here Visit the publisher’s website here Signed copies are now available at a steep discount, directly from the publisher—only $14.95. Order them from Amazon here, and choose S4N Books as the seller. December 16 The poet and historian Jeff Sypeck participated in Via Negativa’s year-end Favorite Poetry Book survey, and kindly wrote this about To the House of the Sun: The best poetry book I read this year was To the House of the Sun (S4N Books, 2015), Tim Miller’s epic poem about the travels of an Irish-born Georgian seeking revenge against his own father during the Civil War. Miller contacted me back in the spring because he found me online and thought I might like his work. He was right: To the House of the Sun is a sprawling, strange, deeply moving poem inspired by the the world’s great religious texts and definitely in conversation with them. It’s a difficult, harrowing, inspiring, incantatory book, and I’ve never read anything like it. September 28 The poet Daniel Paul Marshall had these good words to say about To the House of the Sun: Tim is the author of the American Civil War epic poem To the House of the Sun, which I have been fortunate enough to read. It isn’t just a work of literary pulchritude, but in addition, a work of scholarly dedication to a variety of traditions, myths, histories, traditions, of literature & the humanities generally. […]

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Classic Jam Hits

Going through my computer the other day, I found the .pdfs of these classic book sets, and thought to post them here for whoever wants them: Frazer’s The Golden Bough, The Mythology of All Races, and Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Whatever their limitations now, they are still great resources. I can’t remember where I found […]

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Their Great Buzzing (New Poem)

Many thanks to the editors of Concho River Review, who just published my poem “Neighborhood” in their Fall, 2016 issue. You can see the table of contents, and subscribe to the magazine here. (They previously published by essay “Blindness, War & History” in their Fall, 2014 issue) Since it is not available online, a screenshot of the poem is below […]

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Old Ritual, Ancient Travel, & Fire Houses (3 New Poems)

Many thanks to the editors of The High Window, who just published three new poems of mine. They are part of a larger sequence on the mythology, history, and archaeology of old Europe. You can read them here. For those interested in further info behind the poems, these are good starting places: Star Carr: Starr Carr – the official site […]

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6 New Poems

Many thanks to Chris Murray, editor at Poethead, for featuring six of my poems here. They include four poems from Orkney: Skara Brae Horses on Orkney Bone, Antler, Stone – Museum Pieces Cuween Chambered Cairn – (where the author photo comes from)  And two other personal favorites I’ve been looking forward to seeing published: Robert Oppenheimer Daedalus and Icarus  

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Conrad in the Underworld

Following yesterday, here is Book 31 from To the House of the Sun, and my version of the Underworld journey. In Books 29 and 30, Conrad has spent the winter of 1865 communing with the ghosts of the Donner Party at Donner Lake; but upon seeing his starved body suddenly rejuvenating, they flee, and he begins to sink through the […]

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Burials (2 New Poems)

Many thanks to Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, poetry editor at Londongrip, who just published two new poems of mine. They are from a larger sequence on prehistoric burials in ancient Europe. The poems can be found here. For those interested in more info on the burials, these are both good starting places: Vedbaek Finds Amesbury Archer    

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John Donne: Holy Sonnets & Good Friday

There’s a sense that, eventually, somebody could have written much of the best of John Donne’s poetry. His tremendous blend of looseness (many of the poems can feel casually spoken) coupled with an almost impenetrable density and complexity, or his mixture of the erotic and humorous and newly-scientific in some of his love poetry, feel at times like they would […]

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Early Yeats (12 Poems)

A recent article tells the astonishing story about theatre majors who were unable to act out flirting: “Accustomed to soliciting one another via text, and more used to hookups than dates, this verb was no longer a touchstone for college students, and ‘flirting’ did not elicit any specific physical or emotional behaviors (sustained eye contact, light touch, smiling, playfulness) from […]

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Daniel Paul Marshall (6 Poems)

I would encourage anyone with an interest in poetry to check out the work of Daniel Paul Marshall. He has kindly allowed a handful of his poems to appear below, but many more are available at his website. Originally from England, he now lives on Jeju Island, Korea, where he runs a café and guesthouse which he built with his […]

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Kafka’s Diaries

  My recent post about Thomas Wolfe elicited a handful of comments like, “I loved to read him when I was young, but as I get older he no longer holds up.” My own versions of Wolfe are people like Hesse and Dostoevsky, but Kafka has remained one of those authors I latched onto in high school who has never lost […]

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George Orwell in the Coal Mines

As an addition to my last post, here is George Orwell’s complete description of going down into the coal mines of northern England, taken from the second chapter of his 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier.  The entire text of the book can be found here. *** When you go down a coal-mine it is important to try and […]

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George Orwell & Empathy

As usual, George Orwell says it better than anybody. Here he is in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier, asking his readers not to give up using coal, but just to recognize whose labor is providing them with coal. Nowadays I would only add to the coal miner all the people behind all of our conveniences; because if […]

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Uma Instructs the Gods (Kena Upanishad)

And here’s one of my favorite bits from the Hindu Upanishads, chapters three and four from the Kena Upanishad. From the translation of Swami Nikhilananda: Brahman, according to the story, obtained a victory for the gods; and by that victory of Brahman the gods became elated. They said to themselves: “Verily, this victory is ours; verily, this glory is ours […]

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Thomas Wolfe

On this anniversary of Thomas Wolfe’s death, I’m reminded that every few years I turn around and he’s there again. Whether in influencing Ferlinghetti or Kerouac, or anecdotes about his editor Maxwell Perkins trying to beat his holy mess novels into some more coherent shape, or just his own troubled life, Thomas Wolfe always shows up. I still haven’t read […]

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Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) This simple sentence, found in a […]

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Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice

Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the largest obstacles to belief in a […]

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Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) For insight into how much suffering is […]

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Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) The first way for […]

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Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) Near the end of […]

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Notebook 2: Religion & Originality

NOTEBOOK 2: RELIGION & ORIGINALITY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the ways in which all religions justify […]

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Notebook 1: God’s Will & Interpreting History

NOTEBOOK 1: GOD’S WILL & INTERPRETING HISTORY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) As an addition to this essay, here are more instances from history where, to our peril, various contemporary events were interpreted as obvious manifestations of divine action. While the superficial justification for anti-Semitism has always been a variation on, “[Because] Jews suffered proved that Jews deserved to suffer,”[1] this is also generally true for everyone at some time or another: it is always assumed there is an obvious, divinely sanctioned correspondence between our religious or political or civic affiliations, and the fates of those religions and nations, even though there rarely is. Even worse, throwing such explanations on the sufferings of others allows us to ignore that suffering entirely, or even grin in assuming that it is deserved. The refrain is this: there is simply no reliable or coherent way to ever interpret material or political events of any kind, and of anyone, as the result of divine pleasure or displeasure. And so there is no basis for judging people of other political or religious persuasions when things go good or ill for them, or for us. Each of the following quotations suggests the folly, and attendant […]

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Viking Jesus

To see the ways in which a religion works, one of the best ways is to observe their missionaries and how they adapt stories created in one historical and geographic area, for people and places wildly different. On this point, nothing beats the ninth-century Saxon saga Heliand, which presents Jesus as a chieftain, prayers as runes, and refers to the […]

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The State of Poetry … in 1993

The following essay was published in the New Criterion in February, 1993, and reflects a view of American poetry from at least the 1970s forward. It’s quite depressing to read this two decades later, since the status of poetry as a subculture can’t help but be worse than it was then, and worse in part because the technology noted as […]

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Voices from 1900-1914

About a hundred pages into writing a novel that takes place in Vienna and Paris between 1897 and 1943, one of the best sourcebooks on the early part of the story has been Philipp Blom’s The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914. Below are a few dozen voices from that time, and while some of the accents and stresses may seem silly […]

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Week of the Bomb: Friday

What to make of any of these voices? This week’s posts—the words not of those protesting the bomb after, but of those who made and decided to use it—are the sum of something I have wanted to put together, quite literally, for years, and talking with my wife about each of them has convinced me that I have to at […]

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Week of the Bomb: Thursday

Finally, voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When The New Yorker dedicated its entire August 31, 1946 issue to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the editors wrote that they did so “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of […]

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Week of the Bomb: Wednesday

Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project had families in Europe, or were refugees from Europe themselves, and so the atomic bomb they were helping to make had an obvious adversary in mind. When Germany surrendered, however, many felt much less animus against Japan, and in part this conflict is narrated in the voices below. Also included […]

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Week of the Bomb: Tuesday

Impossible decisions remain impossible, even after they’ve been made. Following on yesterday’s post, here are the voices of those scientists and politicians who admitted the horror of the atomic bomb, but saw its creation and deployment as unavoidable; who felt caught up and even powerless in the equally inevitable march of scientific discovery; those who naively thought that such a […]

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Week of the Bomb: Monday

With the anniversary of the Trinity Test just passed, and the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming up, I realize the atomic bomb has been following me for years. The first book of poetry I ever owned was the anthology Atomic Ghosts, which featured dozens of poets responding to the nuclear age; and after I first moved away from home to […]

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Walking the Brough of Birsay, Orkney

Here is an astonishing walk from mainland Orkney to that tidal island, the Brough of Birsay, and the Pictish, Viking and Christian monastic ruins there. Certainly there are longer and more exhausting walks, and perhaps there are more beautiful places to end up, but I’ve never had such a total experience, a combination of effort and beauty, than what we […]

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A Gallery of Greeks & Romans

Talking with a friend about ancient Greece the other day reminded me of being in Athens back in 2007, and taking two days to wander through its National Archaeological Museum. The best part was all the faces, whether reliefs from numerous funeral stele, or the later busts of Roman emperors or other higher-ups. Nearly all of these are below if […]

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“I respond more to revelation”: Hart Crane on Fire

Perhaps because he embodied that rarest of combinations—the energy and enthusiasm of youth, and actual genius—there are few writers better at articulating the fire of creation than Hart Crane. The following selection from his letters carries Crane from his early twenties to a few years before he died at thirty-two: here is is writing The Bridge, becoming intoxicated with John […]

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William H. McNeill – History as Myth

Last Friday, the great historian William H. McNeill died. I still have surprisingly endearing memories of reading his A World History one winter, in the middle crowded New York City Wendy’s, surrounded by high school kids just done with their day, his narrative silencing every one and every thing. And this year during a brief illness I finally went through […]

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Ship in Air

Here’s a nice anecdote told twice, first from some anonymous Irish source, and then Seamus Heaney’s version of it in verse. This was the first poem of Heaney’s I ever saw, back in high school when someone showed me the New York Times, perhaps when his book Seeing Things was reviewed there, or when he’d won the Nobel Prize. But […]

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A Bit of Late Yeats

For all those poets who feel guilty (or have been guilted) for not writing bad political poems—bad Brexit couplets, bad protest rants on racism, sexism, or Donald Trump poems that are as shitty as him—some advice from an aging Yeats is worth repeating:   Those Images What if I bade you leave The cavern of the mind? There’s better exercise […]

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George Herbert, Getting Back Up

from George Herbert’s poem, “The Flower”:     And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write;     I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing: O my only light,             It cannot be             That I am he     On whom thy tempests fell all night.

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Voluspa

To close out a month of posts, here’s the Voluspa, that great bit of the world turning over, from the Norse Poetic Edda. Somehow these bards, in the voice of the Seeress narrating it all, were able to cram into a few pages everything from creation to the apocalypse, and there is simply nothing like it. The oddities and opaqueness […]

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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 Maker shed His blood, the […]

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Blindness, War & History

(this essay was originally published in the Fall, 2014 issue of the Concho River Review. Since it is no longer available for purchase, I will post the essay here)  when you kill another honor him with your tears when the battle is won treat it as a wake —Tao Te Ching 31, tr. Red Pine   1. Blindness I often […]

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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 notice immediately, they are almost […]

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Rig Veda

In another life (appropriately enough), I would have been Hindu; in an additional other life, at the very least I would have started studying Indo-European at a young age. As it happened, whatever brief time I’ve been able to devote to Hinduism has no doubt been saturated with the romanticism of a novice who is very far indeed from any […]

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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 readers would do well to […]

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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 landscape, hence the photos of […]

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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 you call it, as it […]

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Hart Crane, High & Low

Here is one the my favorite moments from a writer’s life, followed by one of the saddest. Only seven months apart, they typify the pendulum of great highs and awful lows in Hart Crane’s life. Desperate to write, and giving in his letters as articulate a record of that burning desire as any writer I know, it is hard not […]

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Yeats Comes to the Occult

Here is W. B. Yeats, remembering some of his adult experiences with the occult and supernatural. All taken from his The Trembling of the Veil, collected in Autobiographies: When staying with Hyde in Roscommon, I had driven over to Lough Kay, hoping to find some local memory of the old story of Tumaus Costello, which I was turning into a […]

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Henry Vaughan – 5 Poems

Here are a few pieces from seventeenth-century poet Henry Vaughan. Going through The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse, the usual names stuck out, but Vaughan seemed to run past most of them. Trying to place him, he strikes me very nearly as a forerunner of William Blake in the visionary quality of his unexpected rhythms. I’ve seen him placed a […]

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Tacitus & Primo Levi

It was nice to realize that two Italian writers who lived almost two thousand years apart appear to share the same tone and outlook on world events. Here are a few bits from the Roman historian Tacitus (in his Annal of Imperial Rome) and the more recent memoirist and novelist, Primo Levi (in his The Drowned & the Saved). They […]

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A Visit to the Underworld

Below are excerpts from three of my favorite Underworld journeys from mythology, which also informed my own Underground scene in To the House of the Sun: Book Six of Virgil’s Aeneid, where Aeneas comes upon the shade of his father, who is amazed to see his son, still alive, visiting the land of the dead; Tablet Seven of Gilgamesh, where […]

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Whitman Last

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper in one of his sentences […]

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Whitman First

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper in one of his sentences […]

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Yeats Discovers Poetry

Here’s W. B. Yeats recalling his earliest experiences of poetry: ….This may have come from the stable-boy, for he was my principal friend. He had a book of Orange rhymes, and the days when we read them together in the hay-loft gave me the pleasure of rhyme for the first time. Later on I can remember being told, when there […]

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Heaney on Writing

Here’s Seamus Heaney talking about writing, from Dennis O’Driscoll’s book-length interview with him, Stepping Stones: On Inspiration On the week in May 1969 when he wrote “about forty poems”: It was a visitation, an onset, and as such, powerfully confirming. This you felt, was “it.” You had been initiated into the order of the inspired. Even though most of the […]

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Joyce & Proust Meet

From that greatest of literary biographies, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, here is the account of Joyce meeting Marcel Proust, only a few months before Proust’s death: On May 18, 1922, Sydney Schiff (“Stephen Hudson”), the English novelist whom Joyce had met a few times, invited him to a supper party for Stravinsky and Diaghilev following the first performance of one […]

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T. S. Eliot on Dante

Is there anything better than T. S. Eliot talking about his debt to Dante? Here is the majority of his famous essay “What Dante Means to Me” (hence my own “What Eliot Means to Me”), which can be found in his collection of essays, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. The essay was originally presented as a speech given […]

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The Unfinished Kafka

Reiner Stach, in the middle entry of his three volume biography of Franz Kafka, writes, “Anyone who studies bibliographies today will envy Kafka’s earliest readers, who knew very little about his life and could enjoy his work as literature and not as an accumulation of autobiographical codes.” (186) Stach’s biography (and its beautiful translation into English by Shelley Frisch) seems to give us Kafka as if from that very perspective: for while Kafka’s life and writing are clearly interwoven, there is no sense of stretching or forcing the life or the writing over each other. The second volume at least is less concerned with “what of the life got into the writing” than it is with “what kind of life did the writing emerge from,” and for that and many other reasons is easily one of the most enjoyable biographies I’ve read in a very long time. My earliest reading of Kafka included this remark from George Steiner, on Kafka’s fable “Before the Law”: “The knowledge that it was written … by a gentleman in a bowler hat going to and from his daily insurance business, defies my grasp.” Stach’s book allows that defiance to continue, and deepen, and is just as much the biography of a writer as it is of a young man from Prague in the years leading up to World War One, as he struggles with the pressures of family and career, and the possibility of marriage. […]

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Wallace Stevens, Intergalactic Planetary

Here are some bits on writing, nature, and anonymous everyday life from Wallace Stevens, that quiet murmur of American poetry who may well outlast nearly everybody. The following are from his letters and journals, from 1898 to 1955, only a few months before his death at seventy-five. That a poet so technically isolated (and gladly so) from all the clichés […]

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Heaney Comes to Poetry

Here are some of Seamus Heaney’s memories of reading, writing, and poetry, from earliest schooldays to university, all taken from Dennis O’Driscoll’s wonderful book-length interview with him,  Stepping Stones. Yes, my memory of learning to read goes back to my first days in Anahorish School, the charts for the letters, the big-lettered reading books. But I don’t think I showed […]

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Yeats & Lady Gregory

(photo from the LG/WBY Heritage Trail) In the single-volume Autobiographies of W. B. Yeats, which collects all of Yeats’s autobiographical writings from throughout his life, the great Irish poet mentions the memoirs of one John O’Leary. O’Leary was apparently taking his good old time at it, writing “passages for his memoirs upon postcards and odd scraps of paper, taking immense […]

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Classic Joyce

Too much to choose from, but here’s some classic bits from James Joyce that are always worth keeping in mind: On Writing: “Don’t you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure […]

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Hart Crane to His Father

In early January, 1924, the poet Hart Crane, twenty-four and basically broke, received a letter from his father offering to hire him into the family business. To a friend, Crane wrote, “Along comes a letter from my father this morning offering me a position with him as travelling salesman! This is unacceptable, of course, even though I now can’t complete […]

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Jung’s Great Dream

Jung traveled with Freud and others to America in late September, 1909, and on the boat returning to Europe, he had a dream. Whatever you make of Jung’s overarching theories and scholarship, it always seems better to think of him more as a poet or mystic, and so his strength seems to lie in descriptions of intense inner experiences, and […]

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T. S. Eliot’s Sacred Wood

Here is a favorite bit from a youthful T. S. Eliot (he’s just turned thirty but that’s young to me now): after leaving America for England and abandoning the teaching job at Harvard his family was expecting of him, he made an unfortunate marriage and started a literary life of day job, essays and reviews, and (when he could), poetry. […]

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One Time People (Fiction)

Many thanks to the editors at Juked, who just published my story, “One Time People.” The story is from a collection, slowly emerging online and hopefully someday in print, called The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old. Other stories from the collection are here.

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Adult Conversation (Fiction)

Many thanks to the editors of Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, who will be publishing my short story, “Adult Conversation,” in their next issue. An update will be posted when the issue is available. The story is part of a larger collection on the neglected and easily forgotten, The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old.

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Zen (Favorite Passages)

Along with my excerpts from Ramakrishna and the Desert Fathers, the following favorites from Zen Buddhism constitute just about all the religious wisdom I need. In one way or another, they are all expressions of humility and empathy, and upend the usual fundamentalist (and simple-minded, arrogant, and certain) approaches to scripture, discipline, knowledge, and to diversity of practice or belief. A Word document of […]

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The Desert Fathers (Favorite Passages)

Alongside the sayings of Ramakrishna and the monks of Zen Buddhism, the sayings of the Christian Desert Fathers are about all the wisdom I need, and below are my favorites from four separate collections. It will not appeal to everyone, but what these hermits seem to speak of more often than not is that greatest of virtues: humility. It is […]

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The Lake (fiction)

Many thanks to the editors of Foliate Oak, who published my short story, “The Lake,” in their December Issue. The story is part of a larger collection on the neglected and easily forgotten, The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old. An .mp3 of my reading of it is available here. A YouTube page of that reading is below:

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Hieronymus Bosch

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Albrecht Dürer

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper - People in the Sun

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Favorite Passages)

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, written by “M”, translated by Swami Nikhilananda. It is hard to overstate my love for this book. Along with being the first gift my wife gave me soon after we met, it also contains everything I adore about religion, and articulates all that I ever hope to express about the interaction between different religions and the […]

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Silence in London

Just back from London, where the hugeness of space and history were hard to ignore. But the experience was always deepest in the smallest space, where something sacred, or just something simply old, could be apprehended intimately, in silence. So that it was not Westminster Abbey, despite its beauty as a space and the unnerving realization that one is walking by the actual tombs of early kings and queens, including Elizabeth I. It was not this, but Westminster’s cloister: And it was Westminster’s Chapter House, with its original 13th-century tile, 14th-century paintings on the wall, and nearby the oldest door in England, supposedly used by Edward the Confessor, c. 1050:   And it was, most of all, Westminster’s Pyx Chamber, also dating to shortly after 1066. It is hard to say why this room struck me, but I could have stayed there for days: It was also not the Tower of London, the only time where the idea of royalty truly stank of excess and arrogance and blood, especially at the exhibit of the crown jewels. It was not here, but nearby, at the church of All Hallows by the Tower, a place gutted during the Blitz, the damage revealing a c. 775 Saxon Arch from the earliest version of the church, as well as c. 200 Roman pavement in the crypt below, and of course, crypt chapels for silence: And it wasn’t even London, really, so much as it was a side-trip to Salisbury, […]

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