The Universe in Verse

Grammy Award-Winning Jazz Vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant Reads Audre Lorde’s Poignant Poem “The Bees” – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

Bees hum the essential harmonics in the symphony of life — crucial pollinators responsible for our planet’s diversity, responsible for the flourishing of the entire food chain, responsible even for Earth’s resplendent colors. It is hardly a wonder that they have long moved poets, those essential harmonizers of human life, to rapture and reverie. Emily Dickinson reverenced “their velvet masonry,” Walt Whitman their “their perpetual rich mellow boom” and “great glistening swelling bodies,” and Ross Gay their murmured assurance, “saying…

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James Baldwin on Keeping the Light Alive Amid the Entropic Darkness of Being, Set to Music – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

“Against this cosmic background the lifespan of a particular plant or animal appears, not as drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change,” Rachel Carson wrote in her poetic, unexampled 1937 essay Undersea as she incubated the ideas that would awaken humanity’s ecological conscience. “There is grandeur in this view of life,” Darwin had written in the closing pages of On the Origin of Species in the middle of the previous century,…

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Elizabeth Gilbert Reads a Poignant Forgotten Poem About the Big Dipper and Our Cosmic Humanity – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

For as long as we have been raising enchanted eyes to the night sky — that is, for as long as we have been the conscious, curious, wonder-stricken animals recognizable as human — we have marveled at seven bright stars outlining the third largest constellation in the Northern hemisphere, and humanity’s most beloved one. Ursa Major — Latin for “the great she-bear” — has enraptured the human imagination since before we had the words to call it the Big Dipper…

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Rosanne Cash Reads Lisel Mueller’s Subtle Poem About Growing Out of Our Limiting Frames of Reference – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

We parse and move through reality as multidimensional creatures in a multidimensional world. The experience of dimensions, this living fact of spatiality, may be our most direct mathematical grasp of the universe — an understanding woven into our elemental sensemaking, into our language and our metaphors: We speak of our social circles, our love triangles, our spheres of influence, the depth of our feelings, the height of our intellect, the length of our lives. But we are also quite limited…

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Astronaut Leland Melvin Reads Pablo Neruda’s Love Letter to Earth’s Forests – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“Today, for some, a universe will vanish,” Jane Hirshfield writes in her stunning poem about the death of a tree a quarter millennium after William Blake observed in his most passionate letter that how we see a tree is how we see the world, and in the act of seeing we reveal what we are: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” he…

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Amanda Palmer Reads “Einstein’s Mother” by Tracy K. Smith – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

The forces of chance that chisel reality out of the bedrock of possibility — this improbable planet, this improbable life — leave ghostly trails of what-ifs, questions asked and unanswered, unanswerable. Why do you, this particular you, exist? Why does the universe? And once the dice have fallen in favor of existence, there are so many possible points of entry into life, so many possible fractal paths through it — so many ways to live and die even the most…

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Full Show – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

Each spring, I join forces with my friends at Pioneer Works for an improbable idea that began in 2017 and has taken on a life of its own: The Universe in Verse — a charitable celebration of the science and splendor of nature through poetry. The third annual Universe in Verse at Pioneer Works. April 23, 2019. Photograph: Walter Wlodarczyk.With our sleeves rolled up and sweat-soaked in preparation for the 2020 virtual edition (“trailer” here), and with the world stunned…

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Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Astronomer and Poet Rebecca Elson’s Stunning Cosmic Salve for Our Creaturely Tremblings of Heart – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

It is our biological wiring to exist — and then not; it is our psychological wiring to spend our lives running from this elemental fact on the hamster wheel of busyness and the hedonic treadmill of achievement, running from the disquieting knowledge that the atoms huddling for a cosmic blink around the shadow of a self will one day disband and return to the “aloof stars” that made them. If we still ourselves for a moment, or are bestilled by…

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Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Walt Whitman’s Stunning Serenade to Our Interlaced Lives Across Space and Time – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

How few artists are not merely the sensemaking vessel for the tumult of their times, not even the deck railing of assurance onto which the passengers steady themselves, but the horizon that remains for other ships long after this one has reached safe harbor, or has sunk — the horizon whose steadfast line orients generation after generation, yet goes on shifting as each epoch advances toward new vistas of truth and possibility. Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) was…

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Josh Groban Reads Auden’s “After Reading a Child’s Guide to Modern Physics” and Tells the Inspiring Story of His Rebel Astronomer Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

“How should we like it were stars to burn with a passion for us we could not return?” asked W.H. Auden (February 21, 1907–September 29, 1973) in “The More Loving One” — one of the greatest, most largehearted poems ever written. The son of a physicist, Auden wove science throughout much of his poetry — sometimes playfully, sometimes poignantly, always as a finely polished lens on the deepest moral and humanistic questions with which we live and for which we…

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Neri Oxman Reads Walt Whitman – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

A century before computing pioneer Alan Turing comforted his dead soul-mate’s mother, and perhaps himself, with the insistence that “the body provides something for the spirit to look after and use,” and generations before Rilke defiantly refused to become “one of those who neglect the body in order to make of it a sacrificial offering for the soul,” Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) appointed himself the poet of the body and the poet of the soul in one…

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Sarah Kay Reads Whitman and Performs Her Splendid Song-Poem “Astronaut” – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

“A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,” Walt Whitman bellowed from the golden age of American astronomy, through which he lived wide-eyed with wonder and ablaze with a belief in the unity of everything, the interconnectedness and inter-belonging of everything — the telescopic and the microscopic, the wondrous and the wretched. A century and a half later, his soul-salving poems continue to welcome the beautiful and the terrible equally as particles of our…

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Neil Gaiman Reads His Touching Tribute to the Lonely Genius Arthur Eddington, Who Confirmed Einstein’s Relativity – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

“You have got a boy mixed of most kindly elements, as perhaps Shakespeare might say. His rapidly and clearly working mind has not in the least spoiled his character,” a school principal wrote at the end of the nineteenth century to the mother of a lanky quiet teenager who would grow up to be the great English astronomer Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (December 28, 1882–November 22, 1944) and who would catapult Albert Einstein into celebrity by confirming his relativity theory…

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Whitman’s Immortal Words, Illustrated in Stunning Cyanotype – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

A charitable celebration of art, science, our shared belonging. By Maria Popova “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” Walt Whitman wrote in one of his profoundest verses, in a golden age of science and social change, yet an era at least as divisive as ours. The sentiment became a focal point for Figuring and inspiration for The Astronomy of Walt Whitman — the special pop-up edition of The Universe in Verse, taking place on Governors Island…

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Bill T. Jones Performs Poet Ross Gay’s Ode to Our Highest Human Potentialities – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

“Before I was born out of my mother, generations guided me,” Walt Whitman wrote in Song of Myself, envisioning his unborn self as the product of myriad potentialities converging since the dawn of time — “the nebula cohered to an orb” and “the long, slow strata piled” to make it possible. A century and a half after Whitman, Ross Gay — another poet of uncommon sensitivity to our shared longings and largehearted wonderment at the universe in its manifold expressions…

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Cecilia Payne, Who Discovered the Chemical Fingerprint of the Universe, on the Science of Stars and the Muse of All Great Scientists – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

In his stirring poem “The More Loving One,” W.H. Auden asked: “How should we like it were stars to burn / With a passion for us we could not return?” It is a perennial question — how to live with our human fragility of feeling in a dispassionate universe. But our passions, along with everything we feel and everything we are, do belong to the stars, in the most elemental sense. “We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for…

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Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

“To soothe and spiritualize, and, as far as may be, solve the mysteries of death and genius, consider them under the stars at midnight,” Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) wrote in his daybook upon receiving word of another great poet’s death. “Is there not something about the moon, some relation or reminder, which no poem or literature has yet caught?” he wondered as he approached the end of his own life. As a young man, Whitman had written…

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Amanda Palmer Reads Neil Gaiman’s Stunning Poem Celebrating Rachel Carson’s Legacy of Culture-Shifting Courage – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men,” the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her piercing and prescient 1914 anthem against silence. Half a century later, these words would come to embolden one of the most revolutionary voices humanity has produced — a scientist who changed culture by writing like a poet. “Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent,” marine biologist and poet laureate of…

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