Here are the bright lights of what I’ve been reading lately. I hope you enjoy them as I have. Call this batch: “lights in the midst of our COVID storm”.
On Looking Up by Chance at the Constellations
(‘The calm of heaven’: now there’s a thought to keep in mind)
You'll wait a long, long time for anything much To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves. The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch, Nor strike out fire from each other, nor crash out loud. The planets seem to interfere in their curves, But nothing ever happens, no harm is done. We may as well go patiently on with our life, And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane. It is true the longest drought will end in rain, The longest peace in China will end in strife. Still it wouldn't reward the watcher to stay awake In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break, On his particular time and personal sight. That calm seems certainly safe to last tonight.
(Robert Frost “West Running Brook” 1928, The Poetry of Robert Frost, Edward Connery Lathem, ed. Henry Holt and Co., New York, 1979 p. 268)
Huck on a Sunday Errand
(Because a little humor always helps)
About an hour after dinner everybody was dozing around, some in their chairs and some in their rooms, and it got to be pretty dull. Buck and a dog was stretched out on the grass in the sun sound asleep. I went up to our room, and judged I would take a nap myself. I found that sweet Miss Sophia standing in her door, which was next to ours, and she took me in her room and shut the door very soft, and asked me if I liked her, and I said I did; and she asked me if I would do something for her and not tell anybody, and I said I would. Then she said she’d forgot her Testament, and left it in the seat at church between two other books, and would I slip out quiet and go there and fetch it to her, and not say nothing to nobody. I said I would. So I slid out and slipped off up the road, and there warn’t anybody at the church, except maybe a hog or two, for there warn’t any lock on the door, and hogs likes a puncheon floor (split-log) in summer-time because it’s cool. If you notice, most folks don’t go to church ‘ceptin’ only when they’ve got to; but a hog is different.
(Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, ch. 18)
My Favorite Non-fiction So Far This Year
The jury had a verdict. Beckwith’s grandson held his head in his hands while his redheaded wife rubbed his back. Myrlie Evers clutched the hand of her daughter Reena, and her son Darrell put his arm around her. The jurors soon filed in and I studied them as they entered. There was no anger visible now, only solemn faces.
The foreman clutched the decision on a yellow piece of paper. He handed it over, and the judge studied the verdict before giving it to Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn. Before I could glean anything from their faces, she began to speak:
“We, the jury, find the defendant guilty as charged.”
In that moment, Myrlie Evers would later tell me, she felt all the hate rushing out of the pores of her body. She and her daughter held hands and wept. Darrell let out a whoop, and a few in the audience said, “Yeah! Yeah!”
Beckwith sat still in his Confederate gray suit while his family burst into tears. His wife sobbed. The judge pounded his gavel. “Order in the court.”
As the courtroom grew silent, I heard waves of joy cascading down the hall until they reached a foyer full of people, black and white. The crowd erupted in cheers and I felt a chill. Somehow the impossible had just become possible.
(Jerry Mitchell, Race Against Time: A Reporter Re-opens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era, Simon and Schuster, 2020; p. 146)
Can’t Help Thinking of the Single and Alone
The two of them didn’t even stop dancing during the intervals, and I felt myself shrinking to a small black dot against those red and white rugs and that pine paneling. I felt like a hole in the ground.
There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room.
It’s like watching Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction: every second the city gets smaller and smaller, only you feel it’s really you getting smaller and smaller and lonelier and lonelier, rushing away from all those lights and that excitement at about a million miles an hour.
(Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998. p. 19)
Evil Will Kneel!
Good to remember when things look bleak.
(Abdiel and Satan, both armed to the teeth, have been bad-mouthing each other for quite some time. Now it comes to blows…)
Abdiel: "Reign thou then in Hell, thy kingdom, but let me serve In heaven God ever blest, and His divine behests obey, worthiest to be obeyed. Yet chains in Hell, not realms, expect! Meanwhile, From me...this greeting on thy impious crest receive." So saying, a noble stroke he lifted high, Which hung not, but so swift with tempest fell On the proud crest of Satan, that no sight Nor motion of swift thought, less could his shield Such ruin intercept. Ten paces huge He back recoiled, the tenth on bended knee, His massy spear upstaged; as if on earth Winds underground or waters forcing way Sidelong, had pushed a mountain from its seat Half sunk with all its pines. Amazement seized The rebel thrones, but greater: rage, to see Thus foiled their mightiest...
John Milton Paradise Lost, Ed. Alistair Fowler, Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group Publishers, London 2007, Book VI, ll. 183-200.