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Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

From Virginia Woolf’s Diary on November 21, 1918: I was interrupted somewhere on this page by the arrival of Mr Eliot. Mr Eliot is well expressed by his name – a polished, cultivated, elaborate young American, talking so slow, that each word seems to have special finish allotted it. But beneath the surface it is fairly evident that he is […]

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A Twelfth Century Love Letter: Heloise Remembers Abelard

An amazing passage from a letter of Heloise to Abelard, those twelfth-century lovers who ended up in a nunnery and a monastery after their affair was discovered. Strip away the contemporary details (their religiosity and its attendant guilt, etc.), and Heloise might be writing a blog today: In my case, the pleasures of lovers which we shared have been too […]

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The best job application letter that didn’t work

James Murray (1837-1915), the Scottish lexicographer and philologist, sent the following letter regarding a job at the British Museum in late 1866. Largely self-taught, he later became the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Before then, this letter somehow didn’t get him the British Museum gig: I have to state that Philology, both Comparative and special, has been my […]

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Ted Hughes: “Devon Riviera” (poem)

Strange to find a Hughes poem more populated by people than animals; & you can tell he’s not happy about it: Devon Riviera Under the silk nightie of the August evening The prepared resort, a glowing liner, Leans toward happiness, unmoving. The whole vessel throbs with dewy longing. Grey, dazed heads, promenading their pots, Their holiday shirts, their shrunk, freckled […]

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Nero & His Mother (poem)

Nero & His Mother I arranged to have her murdered at sea but she just swam to shore as the boat sank; I can see her doing that, unsurprised at the attempt but determined to live even the worst life. When the assassins showed up she screamed to put the sword lower, lower, thinking of her months of heaviness with […]

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Picasso & the Gestapo

from Simon Schama’s Power of Art In the winter of 1941, Pablo Picasso was living and working at the top of an old house in the rue des Grands Augustins in Paris. The Seine was a stone’s throw away. Hard northern light swept in over the rooftops. Pigeons perched on the sills. But Picasso’s Left Bank life during the Occupation […]

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Hart Crane & 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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T. S. Eliot & His Father

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 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. He eventually had enough essays for […]

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Fire Houses (poem)

If forced to choose a favorite short poem of mine, one that brings together nearly everything I’m interested in, it would have to be this one: Fire Houses All the old stories have their fire houses: hostels, banqueting halls, stopping places, some leading to the Otherworld, some made of iron, and all of them set afire, mansions made into ovens, […]

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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 that coal. Nowadays I would only add to the coal miners all the people behind our conveniences; because if we […]

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Missing Child (poem)

Missing Child The sound of them woke me in the morning, feet kicking up careful spirals of leaves and lean, low voices under my window. All the way to the woods there’s a line of them, a missing boy overnight their care won’t solve: the world is too small to search all of it. I find one to say about […]

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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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Daedalus & Icarus (poem)

Daedalus & Icarus The old craftsman came to Cumae after a long life of art and flight, love and theft, came alone to the Sibyl’s Italian shore wasted with age and reputation to the one who knew every alphabet, the seeress who saw the future in driven leaves: and warped with the same old age as him, she asked that […]

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Odin & Baldr (poem)

Odin & Baldr The High One heard the lowest prophecy: already riddled with the worst of dreams, his boy Baldr would be killed by his brother. And worse: another brother would avenge him, family hacking down family. And worse: these murders would lead to the end, to three winters of war and three more years of only winter, and all […]

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Unfinished Michelangelo (poem)

Unfinished Michelangelo The impossible bodies of apostles, messiahs and slaves, statues that couldn’t have stood had he finished them, faces half buried in membranes of marble that threaten to swallow and take them back; bodies climbing without hands or feet or legs out of the mineral morass in the great struggle for birth: a nearly headless body, torso only, drowning […]

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Robert Oppenheimer (poem)

Robert Oppenheimer Now I come to write in light and fire in a language of power we all know, beyond every letter and poetry and all the dithering of philosophy, all the prevarication of politics. The physicists have known sin, it’s true, but also the brilliance of a burden overcome in the ageless mountains, a foul display that was beyond […]

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Happy Black Friday

For those who are out stampeding each other for flat-screen TVs, and for those forced to work so others can get their amazing deals, here’s my usual Black Friday post: When asked if the news of the day surprised him anymore, the poet Joseph Brodsky—who grew up in Soviet Russia and came to America in his early thirties—said in part, […]

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Review: Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller

Originally posted on Riggwelter:
Miller, Tim, Bone Antler Stone, High Window Press, 2018. ISBN: 9780-2440-0959-5. £9.99 As the title might suggest, (pre)history and nature feature strongly in Tim Miller’s collection Bone Stone Antler (The High Window Press), but also song, fire, life. The collection has four sections: Landscapes & Rituals, Burials (which I found particularly moving), Artefacts and Orkney. It also ranges…

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Review: Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller

Originally posted on Amethyst Review:
Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller: High Window Press, 80pp ISBN 9780244009595 The scope of this collection is extraordinary, and the depth of research admirable. But Tim Miller’s poetry wears its learning well enough to draw in a non specialist reader. Prehistory is a gift to the poet in that it can offer the mysterious,…

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 13: “The perfect image of a mighty mind, of one that feeds upon infinity”

Here are excerpts from the last book of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude.  Other excerpts  are here.   In one of these excursions, travelling then Through Wales on foot and with a youthful friend, I left Bethkelet’s huts at couching-time, And westward took my way to see the sun Rise from the top of Snowdon. Having reading The cottage at the mountain’s […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 12: “making verse deal boldly with substantial things”

Throughout the summer I hope to post my favorite bits from Wordworth’s 1805 Prelude. Book 12 continues his meditations in Book 11, which was titled “Imagination, How Impaired & Restored.” Other excerpts are here.   Such benefit may souls of humblest frame Partake of, each in their degree; ’tis mine To speak of what myself have known and felt – […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 11: “Habits of devoutest sympathy”

Excerpts from Book 11 of  Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he calls “Imagination, How Impaired and Restored.” Other excerpts are here.   Long time hath man’s unhappiness and guilt Defained us: with what dismal sights beset For the outward view, and inwardly oppressed With sorrow, disappointment, vexing thoughts, Confusion of the judgement, zeal decayed – And last, utter loss of hope […]

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The Great Myths #39: Arrow Boy (Cheyenne)

After the Cheyenne had received their corn, and while they were still in the north, a young man and woman of the tribe were married. The woman became pregnant and carried her child in the womb for four years. The people watched with great interest to see what would happen, and when the woman gave birth to a beautiful boy […]

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Cyril Edwards (Interview)

I’ve relied on many translators and scholars in the writing of To the House of the Sun, and over the years I’ve been lucky enough to correspond with a few of them. Their specialties vary widely—Greek religion, Hinduism/Indo-European studies, Egyptology, Arthurian romance, etc.—and it seems that their enthusiasm and love for language, history, and religion are worth sharing. Especially since […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 10: “In the very world which is the world of all of us, the place in which, in the end, we find our happiness, or not at all “

Excerpts from Book 10 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, where he concludes his story of being in France during the Revolution. Other excerpts are here.   A poor mistaken and bewildered offering, Should to the breast of Nature have gone back, With all my resolutions, all my hopes, A poet only to myself, to men Useless, and even, beloved friend, a […]

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Cauldron & Drink (poem)

CAULDRON & DRINK They love their honey and they love the vine, the wine and beer they engender with fire and the altered world each takes them to. They name their vessels like newborns, they name their goblets and flagons and mixing bowls and give titles to their cauldrons, those cornucopias of bronze or clay or silver, a few or […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 9: “I saw the revolutionary power toss like a ship at anchor”

Excerpts from Book 9 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, where he begins his story of being in France during the Revolution. Other excerpts are here.   ’Tis mine to tread The humbler province of plain history, And, without choice of circumstance, submissively Relate what I have heard. Book 9, 642-645 Oft then I said, And not then only, “What a mockery […]

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Books for Days

With June finally done and the rush of bringing out two books behind me, let me thank everyone who has purchased copies. There are still a few of each book left from my initial batch; if anyone is interested, I’m selling them myself much cheaper than Amazon etc., & they will be signed. If you would like a review copy […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 8: “A weight of ages did at once descend upon my heart”

Excerpts from Book 8 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he titles “Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind.” Other excerpts are here.   With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel In that great city what I owed to thee: High thoughts of God and man, and love of man, Triumphant over all those loathsome sights Of wretchedness and vice, […]

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“Bone Antler Stone” now available

“Our prehistory now has its poet laureate.” – Barry Cunliffe, Oxford University Download readings from the book below, or read an essay about the book. US readers can order copies directly from me here: UK and worldwide readers, order directly from The High Window Press here Passing through more than thirty thousand years of history, the changing spiritual and material […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 6: “No absence scarcely can there be, for those who love as we do.”

Excerpts from Book 6 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his friendship with Coleridge. Other excerpts are here.   There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair, No languor, no dejection, no dismay, No absence scarcely can there be, for those Who love as we do. Book 6, 253-256 I too have been a wanderer, but, alas, How different is the […]

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Sympathy for Suicide

From Bearing the Names of Many/The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, just as illness and war are spreading: People are committing suicide all over the place. I am enjoying this in part because the people killing themselves were the type, only a year ago, most likely to condemn suicides as evil, as cowards, as cruel to themselves and to their […]

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Speaking of Short Stories

Back when I used to do a lot of readings, I would start out by sharing somebody else’s work, and I realize that I should do the equivalent of that with the release of my book of stories, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old. The person that comes to mind is the late William Trevor, whose Last Stories was […]

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Review of Hymns & Lamentations

Hymns & Lamentations

Check out the poet Tom Laichas’s review, here, of my 2011 book Hymns and Lamentations, a collection poems on the unsolvable religious problems of suffering and joy. It’s an immensely generous and thorough look at the book, probably the best it’s gotten so far. You can still order the book here.  

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 2: “The self-sufficing power of solitude”

Excerpts from Book 2 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude. Other excerpts are here.   Thus the pride of strength And the vainglory of superior skill Were interfused with objects which subdued And tempered them, and gradually produced A quiet independence of heart. And to my friend who knows me I may add, Unapprehensive of reproof, that hence Ensued a diffidence and […]

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Two Gods – poems by Tim Miller

Originally posted on Amethyst Review:
Two Gods I. Esus with an Axe As if he were winter itself Esus goes at the willow tree, goes to prune it back for a time, promising a spring without blades. And as if they were winter itself, the egrets in the willow tree consider how the cold must come, consider where all souls must go, and surrender the willow to fly. And as if it were winter itself the marsh beside the willow tree cools and freezes and hides beneath ice, beneath the cracking axe of Esus, beneath the iron sun, iron clouds, beside the low willow in winter. II. Sucellus: The Wine God Every now and then, why not, give your time to the drunk old man – the hammer he holds struck winter out of the earth after all, and gave us the grapes that got him all groggy, the barrel overflowing and the jar overturned, the amphorae running over. He’s not the most graceful god, not in spring, but remember that his hammer is thunder, that his hammer is the reliable wheel and his body is covered in the serious signs that the dark of deep winter were made for – so join him while his hammer is on the ground and while, stumbling, he gives a smile over at you. ? Tim Miller writes about religion, history and poetry at http://www.wordandsilence.com. These poems are from a larger collection on…

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Risking the Sacred – an essay by Tim Miller

Originally posted on Amethyst Review:
RISKING THE SACRED Many years ago now, while living in California, I was sitting in a mostly-empty university library, surprised to find a literary manifesto in a fairly prominent US magazine. Seeing almost immediately that it was just a lot of posturing and attitude, I gave up. Turning, I saw that behind me on a shelf was a set of books, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, an area of history whose religion and mythology—from Egypt to Mesopotamia and early Judaism—had always held my interest. I gladly pulled the first volume off the shelf, and put the magazine aside. Up until now, hindsight always made this the moment when I chose an interest in “the sacred in literature” over the much larger net of “literature” itself. But just as the order and meaning derived from religion is often used to oppose the random cruelty of everyday life, I’ve spent more than a decade writing a short book that seeks to deny this characterization and unite the religion and everyday life. I’ve also never bought the argument that science and religion are necessarily opposed to one another. So why would I have continued so long loving the rift (for lack of a better phrase) between sacred and secular literature? The first answer is because it was helpful. Any bold attempt to carve out an identity or a boundary for oneself, even if it is not technically…

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Ted Hughes: 2 War Poems

Six Young Men The celluloid of a photograph holds them well – Six young men, familiar to their friends. Four decades that have faded and ochre-tinged This photograph have not wrinkled the faces or the hands. Though their cocked hats are not now fashionable, Their shoes shine. One imparts an intimate smile, One chews a grass, one lowers his eyes, […]

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Emily Dickinson Affirms a Soul

#1142 The Props assist the House Until the House is built And then the Props withdraw And adequate, erect, The House support itself And cease to recollect The Augur and the Carpenter – Just such a retrospect Hath the perfected Life – A Past of Plank and Nail And slowness – then the scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul –

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Allen Ginsberg, “Paterson”

Paterson What do I want in these rooms papered with visions of money? How much can I make by cutting my hair? If I put new heels on my shoes, bathe my body reeking of masturbation and sweat, layer upon layer of excrement dried in employment bureaus, magazine hallways, statistical cubicles, factory stairways, cloakrooms of the smiling gods of psychiatry; […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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The Poet Speaks #13: Richard Wilbur & John Berryman: “The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him”

Even though I’ve never read a word of his poetry, John Berryman has been haunting me lately. Two friends who are also poets that I admire deeply have both praised his work, and recently I’ve come across remarks from a handful of Berryman’s peers, reflecting on his life and his suicide in 1972. Here are two quotes, the first from […]

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The Great Myths: Climbing the World Mountain (To the House of the Sun)

autographed copies of To the House of the Sun are always available directly from the publisher at 40% off (includes shipping), by clicking here   SELRES_1bdcfa3c-300a-48ef-b10e-893100acd61SELRES_1bdcfa3c-300a-48ef-b10e-893100acd& the mountain I ascended came from heaven: & the rock I walked on broke away once long ago from the vault of heaven— & so as I walked, I was walking on heaven: & […]

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The Poet Speaks #11: George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Levine, Stephen King, Seamus Heaney: “struggling erring human creatures”

George Eliot, on empathy: The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies…. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot. The only effect I ardently long to produce by […]

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The Poet Speaks #9: Geoffrey Hill, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, James Merrill, Ursula K. Le Guin: “We are difficult”

On the supposed “difficulty” of his poetry: We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that […]

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The Poet Speaks #8: Patti Smith, Toni Morrison, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane: “I shall make every sacrifice toward that end”

As even “nerd culture” and all the rest just becomes another snobby fad and pop culture corner to hide in, Patti Smith suggests where the real “next” actually is, out of view completely:…when people ask me Who’s the new people?, well to me the new people are the unknown people. The new people that I embrace are the people that […]

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Reading between the lines in early medieval England: Old English interlinear glosses

Originally posted on Dutch Anglo-Saxonist:
A great portion of the extant Old English corpus survives between the lines of Latin manuscripts, as interlinear glosses. Generally, these glosses provide a simple word-for-word Old English translation of the Latin text in order to aid the reader, but various alternative glossing methods existed.  This blog post takes a look at what could be…

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Art Must Be Political

Should anyone tell you that the primary duty of art (and of life) is to be political, to constantly choose sides and to turn one another into mere categories and the most minute identities, here are a few replies by Jean Guéhenno, written while living in Nazi-Occupied Paris. All come from his Diary of the Dark Years: December 23, 1940 […]

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Deep History & Old Childhood: 3 New Poems at Isacoustic

Immense thanks to Barton Smock, who just published three of my poems at Isacoustic. You can read them here. They are among my favorites from the past few years, and so it’s wonderful to see them all together; whatever it is I’ve been trying to say with history and mythology, landscape and autobiography, are all there.  Thanks also and obviously and […]

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The Great Myths #17: A Sacrifice for the Feast (Greek)

The cow came in from the field, and the companions of great-hearted Telemachos came from beside their fast black ship, and the smith came, holding in his hands the tools for forging bronze, his handicraft’s symbols, the anvil and the sledgehammer and the well-wrought pincers with which he used to work the gold, and Athene also came to be at […]

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The Great Myths #15: The Horse Sacrifice (Hindu)

Rig Veda 1:162 – The Sacrifice of the Horse Mitra, Varuṇa, Aryaman the Active, Indra the ruler of the Ṛbhus, and the Maruts – let them not fail to heed us when we proclaim in the assembly the heroic deeds of the racehorse who was born of the gods. When they lead the firmly grasped offering a in front of […]

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The Great Myths #12: The Corn Mother (Penobscot)

When Kloskurbeh, the All-maker, lived on earth, there were no people yet. But one day when the sun was high, a youth appeared and called him “Uncle, brother of my mother.” This young man was born from the foam of the waves, foam quickened by the wind and warmed by the sun. It was the motion of the wind, the […]

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The Great Myths #7: The Tree of Souls (Jewish)

God has a tree of flowering souls in Paradise. The angel who sits beneath it is the Guardian of Paradise, and the tree is surrounded by the four winds of the world. From this tree blossom forth all souls, as it is said, “I am like a cypress tree in bloom; your fruit issues forth from Me.” (Hos. 14:9). And […]

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The Great Myths #5: A Ghost Story (Icelandic)

After Thorolf died, a good many people found it more and more unpleasant to stay out of doors once the sun had begun to go down. As the summer wore on, it became clear that Thorolf wasn’t quiet, for after sunset no one out of doors was left in peace. There was another thing, too: the oxen which had been […]

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Happy Black Friday

For those who are out stampeding each other for flat-screen TVs, and for those forced to work so others can get their amazing deals, here’s my usual Black Friday post: When asked if the news of the day surprised him anymore, the poet Joseph Brodsky—who grew up in Soviet Russia and came to America in his early thirties—said in part, […]

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