Ursula K. Le Guin on Anger

Art by Maurice Sendak for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales “Anger continued on past its usefulness becomes unjust, then dangerous… It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process.” BY MARIA POPOVA The poet May Sarton experienced anger as “a huge creative urge gone into reverse.” Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has argued that it is often “an alluring substitute for grieving,” granting us the illusion of agency in situations that bereave of us of control. Poet and philosopher David Whyte pulled on anger’s weft thread to reclaim it as “the deepest form … Continue reading Ursula K. Le Guin on Anger

Forgotten Pioneer Margaret Fuller on the Singular Power of Music

Margaret Fuller “All truth is comprised in music and mathematics.” BY MARIA POPOVA Aldous Huxley celebrated music an expression of the “blessedness lying at the heart of things.” Philosopher Susanne Langer considered it “a laboratory for feeling and time,” whose mysterious power both eclipses and illuminates all the other arts. “Without music life would be a mistake,” Nietzsche proclaimed in 1889. A century later, music actually, literally saved Oliver Sacks’s life. In a very different way, it had once saved Beethoven’s. While many great writers have composed fervent raptures about the singular power of music, one of the most beautiful and penetrating comes from the forgotten pioneer Margaret Fuller(May 23, 1810–July … Continue reading Forgotten Pioneer Margaret Fuller on the Singular Power of Music

On the Tranquility of Mind: Seneca on Resilience, the Trap of Power and Prestige, and How to Calibrate Our Ambitions for Maximum Contentment

“That man lives badly who does not know how to die well.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Wherever life can grow, it will. It will sprout out, and do the best it can,” the poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote in her abiding ode to perseverance. But in our quest to do the best we can, we are apt to defeat ourselves by pushing against life with the brute force of uncalibrated ambition, razing our peace of mind on the sharp-edged sense that there is always more to achieve. If the object of life is not mere resilience but flourishing, attaining it may be less a … Continue reading On the Tranquility of Mind: Seneca on Resilience, the Trap of Power and Prestige, and How to Calibrate Our Ambitions for Maximum Contentment

The Art of Being Alone: May Sarton’s Stunning 1938 Ode to Solitude

image edited by Fernando Kaskais “There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone.” BY MARIA POPOVA “The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone,”artist Agnes Martin reflected in her final years. “Oh comforting solitude, how favorable thou art to original thought!” wrote the founding father of neuroscience in his advice to young scientists. The poet Elizabeth Bishop believed that everyone should experience at least one prolonged period of solitude in life. For in true solitude, as Wendell Berry so memorably observed, “one’s inner voices become audible [and] in consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives” — an intuitive understanding of what psychologists … Continue reading The Art of Being Alone: May Sarton’s Stunning 1938 Ode to Solitude

The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel

Illustration from Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, an illustrated tribute to E.E. Cummings “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” BY MARIA POPOVA “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” wrote the thirty-year-old Nietzsche. “The true and durable path into and through experience,” Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney counseled the young more than a century later in his magnificent commencement address, “involves being true … to your own solitude, true to … Continue reading The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel

The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence

The surprising forces influencing the complexity of the language we speak and write. BY JULIE SEDIVYNOVEMBER “[[[When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people [to dissolve the political bands [which have connected them with another]] and [to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station [to which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them]]], a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires [that they should declare the causes [which impel them to the separation]]].” —Declaration of Independence, opening sentence An iconic sentence, this. But how did it … Continue reading The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence

Walt Whitman on Beethoven and Music as the Profoundest Expression of Nature

Walt Whitman (Library of Congress) In praise of the “dainty abandon” that awakens us to wonder and carries us outside ourselves. BY MARIA POPOVA “Feeling, life, motion and emotion constitute its import,”philosopher Susanne Langer wrote of music, which she defined as “a highly articulated sensuous object.” Although many great writers have contemplated the power of music, few have articulated it more perfectly or more sensuously than Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) does in Specimen Days (public library) — the sublime collection of prose fragments and journal entries, which gave us Whitman on the wisdom of trees and which the poet himself described as “a melange of … Continue reading Walt Whitman on Beethoven and Music as the Profoundest Expression of Nature