Things Below: Thoughts on the World and Literature, Part One of Two

When on July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School, he didn’t open his remarks as one would expect, by quoting a passage of scripture.  The young men to whom he spoke were, after all, seminarians who had spent their time at Harvard studying the Bible and preparing for a career in the ministry.  We’d assume that the speaker … Continue reading Things Below: Thoughts on the World and Literature, Part One of Two

 Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads: Keeping Poetry Honest

“Fair is foul and foul is fair,” sing the witches in Macbeth as they toss toads and newts and thumbs into the pot to make “double, double, toil and trouble.” Despite the appearance of sorcery, they do not supernaturally bewitch Macbeth. All they do is speak. Macbeth destroys himself of his own free will. It’s a subtle boast from Shakespeare: by giving the witches the … Continue reading  Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads: Keeping Poetry Honest

“Milestones of Earth Residence”: On Poetry of Place

When I drive home from Hillsdale, I turn the radio to 93.9 as I pass Ann Arbor. It’s just close enough for the signal to come through, and for the rest of the way back to Detroit, I listen to the sound of my teenage years and my college summer commutes. Broadcasting from across the river, the Canadian station plays alt-rock hits until they wear … Continue reading “Milestones of Earth Residence”: On Poetry of Place

Christ the Gardener: Reflections on a Summer in Turkey

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” … Continue reading Christ the Gardener: Reflections on a Summer in Turkey

Le Point Vierge: The Problem of Pilgrimage

“Przszedłeś jako ciekawy turysta, odchodź jako bogaty pielgrzym”     This inscription can be found on a plain wooden post at the base of the mountain Giewont in Zakopane, Poland. It glares at the traveler as he walks down the winding dirt path to the small hut that once served as the hermitage of Brother Albert Chmielowski. As one whose knowledge of the Polish language consists of … Continue reading Le Point Vierge: The Problem of Pilgrimage

Meditation on Memory

Several old journals sit on my bookshelf here, ranging in age from ten years to a few months, several of them worn and stained, some with small mementos, slips of notepaper, receipts, and sketches, all tucked between the pages or inside their covers. Whenever life seems to be taking a rather unexpected turn, I feel compelled to revisit these old, familiar books.  I always wrote … Continue reading Meditation on Memory

Comic Heroes of the Demos

Captain America, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter are ideal “heroes” for what Nietzsche would call a “democratic” soul. These caricatures of childhood imagination encourage a reversion to puerile notions of unearned self-importance among their devotees. The protagonists of these stories come from common backgrounds but are, within the first quarter of the film, serendipitously granted magical powers and a world-changing mission. To their audience, these … Continue reading Comic Heroes of the Demos

Empathy in Isolation: Sharing Loneliness with Nick Carraway

In Act IV of Coriolanus, Shakespeare uses a seemingly inconsequential simile about a solitary dragon leaving its swamp. It is in this simile that Shakespeare coined the adverb “lonely.” Similarly, in Act III of Hamlet, Polonius tells Ophelia to sit down and read, so that her “loneliness” would appear natural. It is odd that loneliness—a feeling universally understood today—is a relatively new term, and it … Continue reading Empathy in Isolation: Sharing Loneliness with Nick Carraway

“The Riddle We Can Guess”: On Clarity and Ambiguity in Writing

“The riddle we can guess / We speedily despise.” —Emily Dickinson, #1222 I was lying in the backseat of the car on an early October day in 2014, waiting while my mom grabbed a few things from the grocery store. It was probably very hot, as Tennessee autumns tend to be, but all I can recall about that moment was the book, William Faulkner’s The Sound and … Continue reading “The Riddle We Can Guess”: On Clarity and Ambiguity in Writing