Laurie Sheck, “Pompeii”

Laurie Sheck, “Pompeii” Covered with lapilli we crouch preserved as we were on that first day The last one of our lives Our bodies black marginalia beneath the sky’s unstable searchlight They have unearthed the House of the Fawn the House of the Silver Wedding And the Surgeon’s House Our bread still in our ovens Our tables spread and set […]

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Seamus Heaney’s “Beowulf”

From the end of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, here is an immense mourning for a person and a civilization, the sound of all of society at war: The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf, stacked and decked it until it stood four-square, hung with helmets, heavy war-shields and shining armour, just as he had ordered. Then his warriors […]

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Robinson Jeffers, “Vulture”

Robinson Jeffers, “Vulture” I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven, And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers Whistle […]

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Will the Real Psalm 23 Please Stand Up?

Probably the most lucid example of how religions both change drastically, and yet remain meaningful, is right here in James Kugel’s two pages on Psalm 23. Kugel, himself an Orthodox Jew and an astonishing scholar, shows that the life of any scripture precludes its being owned by any one religious, interpretive, or scholarly community. In this case, the real Psalm […]

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Death in Ancient Egypt

Here, Erik Hornung refutes the old cliché that ancient Egyptian religion was “death obsessed,” or that constructions like the pyramids are nothing more that huge tombs. In fact I can think of few religions both more anxious to deny death and affirm, somehow and some way, the continuation of life:   For the Egyptians even death itself cannot call into […]

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5 Elegies by Seamus Heaney

from “Clearances” When all the others were away at Mass I was all hers as we peeled potatoes. They broke the silence, let fall one by one Like solder weeping off the soldering iron: Cold comforts set between us, things to share Gleaming in a bucket of clean water. And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes From each other’s work […]

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We Were All Animals Once: The Beginning of Anthropomorphic Thinking

from Steven Mithen’s The Prehistory of the Mind:   This propensity to think of the natural world in social terms is perhaps most evident in the ubiquitous use of anthropomorphic thinking—attributing animals with humanlike minds. Consider the Inuit and the polar bear. This animal is highly sought after and is “killed with passion, butchered with care and eaten with delight.” But […]

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On Beethoven’s Deathbed

Here are two passages from Beethoven’s life. The first finds him on his deathbed, and is recorded in the memoirs of one of his friends. Beset by his final illness, the composer is rejuvenated for the last time by an astounding gift: the complete scores George Frederic Handel. The fact that Beethoven, so close to death, could still express an […]

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