Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter Solstice 2013

Solstice Approaches...

2013 has been a year full of wonder and a year of transition. My two weeks of wandering throughout Japan in April, cherry blossoms in bloom, gave me a sense of Japanese culture from Shinto and Buddhism in Nara to gay life and anime in Tokyo. The natural splendor of Japan, Fuji and Asama covered in snow, the snow monkeys in the forest near Nagano, the hot springs every place we stayed, and the gardens such as Kenroku-en in Kanazawa provided plenitude of being.


After Japan, Will and I trained to New York and Brooklyn to meet up with Joe and see his performance at BAM of the RSC production of Julius Caesar. It was a delight to walk through Greenwich Village and Central park with Will, to see the art in the Metropolitan, including Gertrude Stein, and to visit the Stonewall Bar.  Summer brought trips to Savannah to stay with the Killians at Tybee and a week in September with Joe and Will at the Jasper House. Other trips included several to stay with Starr on Lookout Mountain, and a trip to the Blue Ridge Mts. Asheville and Dillard with Will, meeting up with Karen and Lee at the Dillard House.
2013 took Maggie and Joce to Venice Florida. A trip to their new home was aborted when Joce's fractured ankle refused to heal.

On the home-front in Atlanta, Darryl perfected his apple-walnut, apple-pecan, and pumpkin pie delights. He also enrolled in the ACA (Obama-care). We shall end the year hosting Joe again, after which we shall welcome in 2014 with a week in Savannah at the Connor House.

Joseph Mydell, at home in the Connor House, 2012

Here's to 2014...

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Will Comet Ison dazzle our December this year?

(Alas, no. The dazzle fizzled as the comet vaporized near the Sun.)

12 Cool Facts about Comet ISON

Comet ISON
Comet ISON on Nov. 16, 2013. Click to embiggen.
Photo by Waldemar Skorupa, via CIOC and spaceweather.com
Over the years we’ve had some pretty amazing comets swing by our planet. I remember the ones I’ve seen myself: HyakutakeHale-BoppHolmesPan-STARRS,McNaught… they were all beautiful and amazing sights.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! 
Now we have C/2012 S1 (ISON) passing our way, and it’s certainly grabbing attention. It’s brightened substantially in just the past few days, so now’s the time to see it! The pictures people are taking are phenomenal, and there’s plenty of science pouring in as well.
Everyone loves a good picture, of course, but comets are amazing well beyond just their stunning beauty. So I figured I’d take this opportunity to tell you a few things about this comet, a handful of facts to nourish the part of your brain seeking out wonder. Keep these in mind while you’re gawking at the gorgeous pictures.
1) ISON is a n00b.
Some comets are on long, elliptical orbits dropping them in to the inner solar system before sailing them back out to the depths of space. There, they slow, stop, then fall once again back into the warmth and light. Comet Halley, for example, is on a 75-year orbit that takes it out past Neptune.
But some are more extreme. If they get an extra kick on their way in — perhaps from a collision, or a boost by a planet’s gravity — their elliptical orbit gets turned into an open-ended hyperbola: they have more than enough energy to leave the solar system forever. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
ISON is a hyperbolic comet, which means this is it: These next few weeks are our only chance to see it. After it swings back out, it ain’t coming back. This is likely its first tour of the inner solar system as well, which is why scientists are so excited about it; we’re seeing a pristine comet, billions of years old, a relic of the ancient solar system. It’s a time capsule, letting us study what conditions were like when the Sun and planets were young.
2) ISON is a sun-diver.

ISON orbit by the Sun
The orbit of ISON passes very close to the Sun. This diagram shows what NASA/ESA's SOHO satellite will see; the various circles are the different fields of view of SOHO's cameras.
Photo by NASA / ESA / SOHO
The orbit of ISON takes it very, very close to the Sun’s surface. Next week, on Nov. 28, it will skim a mere 1.1 million kilometers (about 700,000 miles) above the Sun’s surface. Given that the Sun is 1.4 million km across, that’s a mighty close shave! The heat it feels will be intense, and it may not survive the encounter (see #10 below).
3) When it passes the Sun, it will be moving at 360 kilometers per second.
Imagine dropping a rock. The higher you drop it, the longer the Earth’s gravity has to pull on it, and the faster it’ll be moving when it hits the ground.
The fastest a rock can hit the Earth is if you drop it from infinitely far away. When it hits it’ll be moving at escape velocity — and the physics of dropping it is reversible, so if you throw a rock at escape velocity it will continue on forever (hence the term "escape velocity").

Comet SWAN
Comet SWAN (left) on a death dive into the Sun in 2012.
Photo by NASA / ESA / SOHO
The same is true for a comet rounding (or, in some cases, impacting) the Sun. Since ISON is falling from essentially infinitely far away, when it goes around the Sun it’ll be moving at the Sun’s escape velocity at that distance, or just about 360 km/sec (225 miles/sec). How fast is that? Well, it's hundreds of times faster than rifle bullet, for example, and over 1500 times faster than a commercial jet — at that speed, the comet would cross the continental United States in about 15 seconds.
In fact, it will be moving at 0.1% the speed of light! That’s far faster than any human-made space probe has ever traveled. And the only propulsion it uses is gravity.
[CORRECTION (Nov. 22, 2013 at 16:15 UTC): I made an error in the calculation for this section, using the escape velocity for the Sun's surface, and not for the distance ISON will be from the Sun's center. This deserves a longer explanation, so I wrote a follow-up post about it, and simply corrected the problem here.]
4) The solid part of ISON is only about two kilometers across.

comet Hartley 2
The nucleus of comet Hartley 2, seen up close during a flyby of the EPOXI spacecraft in 2010. You can see jets of material (ice turning into gas) from pockets on the surface.
Photo by NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD
Comets are actually lumps of rock, gravel, and ice mixed together. This solid part of the comet is called the nucleus, and some are huge; Hale-Bopp had a nucleus about 30 km (20 miles) across.
ISON, though, is tiny, only about 2 km (1.2 miles) across. Heck, plop it down in the middle of the Rocky Mountains and you’d hardly notice it! The size has been estimated using images taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, which in reality only give us an upper limit. It might even be smaller.
Still, that’s enough to make the comet visible to the naked eye even from a distance of a hundred million kilometers! How can that be? Why, it’s because…
5) The coma is well over 100,000 km in size.

ISON and Earth
A very rough comparison of the physical size of ISON’s coma and the Earth. On this scale, the solid nucleus of ISON would be about the size of a bacterium.
Comet photo by Damian Peach
When you look at a picture of ISON (or any comet), you’re not seeing the nucleus. You’re seeing the gas surrounding it that was once frozen beneath the surface. When the comet gets near the Sun this ice warms and turns directly into a gas. It escapes the weak gravity of the nucleus, forming the fuzzy coma around it.
Since the coma isn’t solid, it doesn’t have a sharp edge. But on Nov. 15, the coma for ISON was estimated to appear about 3 arcminutes across (that’s a size on the sky; the Moon is 30 arcminutes across for comparison). Since ISON was about 140 million km (90 million miles) from Earth at the time, that would put the coma at a size of about 120,000 km (80,000 miles). That’s ten times the diameter of Earth!
6) The tail of the comet is (at least) 8 million kilometers long.

Comet ISON on Nov. 12, 2013.
Photo by Michael Jäger
Once the gas (and ejected dust) in the coma is out in space, it can be affected by both the solar wind and the pressure of sunlight. It streams away, forming one or more long tails. Like the coma, this is extremely rarefied gas, so it doesn’t really have an edge, but the tail of ISON has been measured to be at least 8 million km (5 million miles) long. That’s 20 times the distance of the Moon from the Earth.
7) The tail is essentially a vacuum.
Weirdly, despite being bright and obvious, a comet’s tail is incredibly ethereal. The density of atoms in a typical tail can run up to about 50,000 atoms per cubic centimeter. Sound like a lot? In a cubic centimeter of air at sea level, there are 1019(10,000,000,000,000,000,000) atoms/molecules per cc! Compared to the air we breathe, a comet’s tail is a hard vacuum. It’s only bright because it’s so big, and reflects sunlight.
8) The total mass of the comet is about 2 - 3 billion tons.
Ice isn’t terribly dense; it floats on water! If ISON is a typical mix of ice and rock, it has a density of about 600 kg per cubic meters. Assuming it’s a sphere two km across, that gives it a mass of roughly 2 - 3 billion tons. That may sounds like a lot, but remember, ice is far less dense than rock. A small rocky mountain would be far more massive.
[Comet ISON over a 70-minute period on Nov. 14, 2013, taken by Bruce Gary].
9) ISON is shrinking.
Measurements of how much water ice is leaving the comet’s surface indicate it’s losing about 1029 molecules of water every second (bearing in mind this goes up and down all the time). Doing the math, I get that this is about three tons per second — enough to fill an Olympic pool in about ten minutes. That’s a fair amount, but given the total mass of the comet, it would take about 25 years at this rate for the comet to totally disappear. Since it’s only shedding mass for the few weeks it’s near the Sun, it’s got mass to spare. Thanks to @SungrazingComets and the Comet ISON Observing Campaign for their help with this.
10) ISON may disintegrate

ISON and wings
ISON sprouts "wings"! The arcs above and below the nucleus are common when pieces of a comet break off. In this case, though, no fragments were seen.
Photo by Wendelstein Observatory of the LMU / MPS
That doesn’t mean it’s safe, though! Some comets aren’t terribly solid; the ice is what holds them together. As they near the Sun and the ice starts to go away, big chunks can break off (called “calving”). In some cases the comet can disintegrate spectacularly. Even if they survive their plunge down to the Sun, some comets get so close they evaporate; we’ve seen that happen too!
It’s not clear if ISON will survive its close shave with the Sun. As of right now it seems to be OK, but who knows what the next few days will bring.
11) ISON won’t hit the Earth.

Photo by Shutterstock / buradaki (modified by Phil Plait)
Whenever there’s a bright comet (or near pass of an asteroid), conspiracy buffs start thinking it’ll hit us. Don’t worry about ISON. The closest it will get is on Dec. 26, 2013, when it will be about 60 million km (40 million miles) from Earth. That’s 150 times farther away than the Moon.
12) You can see it for yourself, and it may become visible in broad daylight.

Comet Pan-STARRS (between the trees, under the jet contrail) shortly after sunset on Mar. 19, 2013.
Photo by Phil Plait
Right now, ISON is bright enough to see naked eye, and easily with binoculars. It’s jumped in brightness twice just in the past week or so! As it gets near the Sun it’ll get brighter, but harder to find because, duh, it’s getting near the Sun.
However, sometimes comets like this get incredibly bright when they are close to the Sun. In 2007, I saw comet McNaught at noon. Yes, noon. It was difficult, and I had to be very careful; you don’t want to wind up looking right at the Sun, especially in binoculars, unless boiled eyeballs is something you want. Seriously, don’t just scan around with binoculars looking for the comet, because it’s very dangerous and can blind you.
There’s no way to know right now, but it’s possible that ISON will be visible in broad daylight to the naked eye for the short time it’s near the Sun. It could be possible to see it during the day if you position yourself so that the Sun is blocked behind a tree, or the edge of a house. It depends on the exact position of the comet relative to the Sun, of course.
Again, doing this is difficult and you shouldn't attempt it unless you know what you’re doing. I’ll note that in general, glancing briefly at the Sun won’t hurt a normal eye with an undilated pupil, but it’s not a good idea to do it too much, and it’s more dangerous for kids (their lenses let through more UV light than adult eyes).
Your better bet is to wait a few more days. Once ISON rounds the Sun, it’ll be visible in the west after sunset for a few weeks for those of us in the northern hemisphere, so watching it will be far easier (right now you have to get up at about 5:00 a.m., before sunrise, to see it). Here’s a finder chart (Sky and Telescope has another as well) that’ll help you spot it; planetarium software for mobile devices are great too (I like Sky Safari, but there are many to choose from). You can find plenty more finder charts online. I’ll note it’ll fade with time, but around Dec. 20 or so it should be out of the Sun’s glare, and (hopefully) easily visible with binoculars. [UPDATE (Nov. 22, 2013 at 16:15 UTC): I'll note that once it passes the Sun, the comet will still be visible in the east before sunrise in the morning as well as in the west after sunset in the evening. I explain this in a follow-up post.]
Seeing a good comet is a wonderful experience, and ISON gives us a chance to experience something that will only come around once, quite literally. This isn’t science fiction, or something out of a movie: This object exists, and it’s just one small part of a much grander universe that’s out there. I hope you can take a moment to drink that in.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Autumn Equinox 2013

Everything you need to know: September equinox

Image Credit: Esparta

The 2013 September equinox comes on September 22, at 4:44 p.m. EDT (20:44 UTC). In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins. Learn more about this equinox by following the links below:
What is an equinox? The earliest humans spent more time outside than we do. They used the sky as both clock and calendar. They could easily see that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shift in a regular way throughout the year.
Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress. One example is at Machu Picchu in Peru, where the Intihuatana stone, shown at right, has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The word Intihuatana, by the way, literally means for tying the sun.
Today, we know each equinox and solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and ceaseless orbit around the sun.
Because Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is instead tilted on its axis by 23-and-a-half degrees, Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. We have an equinox twice a year – spring and fall – when the tilt of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s orbit around the sun combine in such a way that the axis is inclined neither away from nor toward the sun.
Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the sun’s rays equally now. Night and day are approximately equal in length. The name ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Image credit: Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz.
But, since Earth never stops moving around the sun, these days of equal sunlight and night will change quickly.
Where should I look to see signs of the equinox in nature? The knowledge that summer is gone – and winter is coming – is everywhere now, on the northern half of Earth’s globe.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you can easily notice the later dawns and earlier sunsets.
Also notice the arc of the sun across the sky each day. You’ll find it’s shifting toward the south. Birds and butterflies are migrating southward, too, along with the path of the sun.
The shorter days are bringing cooler weather. A chill is in the air. In New York City and other fashionable places, people have stopped wearing white. Creatures of the wild are putting on their winter coats.
All around us, trees and plants are ending this year’s cycle of growth. Perhaps they are responding with glorious autumn leaves, or a last burst of bloom before winter comes.
In the night sky, Fomalhaut – the Autumn Star – is making its way across the heavens each night.
Does the sun rise due east and set due west at the equinox? Generally speaking, yes, it does. And that’s true no matter where you live on Earth, because we all see the same sky.
No matter where you are on Earth, you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator – the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth.
At the equinoxes, the sun appears overhead at noon as seen from Earth’s equator, as the illustration at right shows. This illustration (which is by Tau’olunga) shows the sun’s location on the celestial equator, every hour, on the day of the equinox.
That’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west for all of us. The sun is on the celestial equator, and the celestial equator intersects all of our horizons at points due east and due west.
This fact makes the day of an equinox a good day for finding due east and due west from your yard or other favorite site for watching the sky. Just go outside around sunset or sunrise and notice the location of the sun on the horizon with respect to familiar landmarks.
If you do this, you’ll be able to use those landmarks to find those cardinal directions in the weeks and months ahead, long after Earth has moved on in its orbit around the sun, carrying the sunrise and sunset points southward.
New Albany, Indiana. Photo credit: EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh
So enjoy the 2013 equinox – September 22 or 23 depending on your time zone – a seasonal signpost in Earth’s orbit around the sun!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Another Year at BFA

September settles in. Today I met with Wood Smethurst (whom spell check suggests I call Methuselah), our esteemed headmaster at BFA, in the garden. Cicadas sang along with us as we discussed faculty assignments, mastery learning, and Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 with its implications for our mortality and what we teach our youthful students. Irony was ever present, as even the cicadas must know just weeks before the Autumn Equinox.

Here I am with all my BFA credentials. Professional life goes on a while longer...


Dr. Jack Miller, Ben Franklin Academy

Dr. Jack Miller

B.A., M.A., M.S., Ph.D.


Director of Media Services
Computer Science
Coach, Tennis



Dr. Miller holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Tulane University and a Masters Degree in Library and Information Management from Emory University. He has served as Director of the Library and teacher of Philosophy and Computer Science since joining the BFA Faculty in 1992. Dr. Miller also serves on the Board of Directors of the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association (CCTMA) of which BFA is a founding member. Miller has worked in numerous libraries in Atlanta and Savannah, including Director of the High Museum Library and Supervisor of the Ola Wyeth Library branch in Savannah. He has served on the faculty of Tulane University, Armstrong Atlantic University,The Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Atlanta College of Art. He has published numerous articles and reviews and served as an editor for the national publication of The Art Library Society of North America.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sonnet 73

Thanks once again to friend Alfred Corn for inspiring my thoughts upon Shakespeare's

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twi-light of such day,
As after Sun-set fadeth in the West,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all the rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
    This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Christopher Isherwood
and Don Bachardy

  • Conclusion to WS, Sonnet 73:

    "To love that well which thou must leave ere long."
    Susan Reilly, Venkatesan Iyengar and 15 others like this. 
    Catherine Metzger. Such a vulnerable place.

    Alfred Corn People, places, things we love become more treasured when we know we don't have long with them. And it's never very long.

    Catherine Metzger You posted this conclusion when I was reading The Wanderer, prompted by one of my daughters who is studying to take the GRE and the specialized English Lit test. His lament of course is that of someone who had too much, too many, taken from him all at one time. "Where is that horse now? Where is that rider?....How that time has passed away,
    dark under the cover of night,
    as if it had never been!

    Doug Anderson Devastating line.

    Venkatesan Iyengar The "me" and "thou" are not one and the same.

    Jack Miller As you know, this sonnet is especially dear to me. After thinking about it yet again, I decided to read some criticism of it from various well-known sources. What a fool John Crowe Ransom proved to be on this sonnet, what misguided prudery in his comments.I used to drink on occasion with his brother Bill, who gave up academia to tend The Napoleon House in New Orleans. I admired John Crowe, but prudery got the best of him on this sonnet. Fortunately, there are literary critics who do understand it and write elegantly about it; not that we need a word more than WS wrote.

    Alfred Corn I don't recall what Ransom said. But it's hard to see anything in the sonnet that could prompt a prudish response. A summary?

    Liz Rosenberg bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.... this one is my favorite sonnet of all. Thanks for reminding me.

    Jack Miller  

    Here is a quote from his analysis. It generated a back and forth over whether the poet is to be pitied or not and about the younger man addressed in the poem and their relationship. I have access to most literary journals, and the range of commentary on the sonnet is notable... "The structure is good, the three quatrains offering distinct yet equivalent figures for the time of life of the unsuccessful and to-be-pitied lover. But the first quatrain is the boldest, and the effect of the whole is slightly anti-climactic. Within this quatrain I think I detect a thing which often characterizes Shakespeare's work within the metaphysical style: he is unwilling to renounce the benefit of his earlier style, which consisted in the breadth of the associations; that is, he will not quite risk the power of a single figure but compounds the figures. I refer to the two images about the boughs. It is one thing to have the boughs shaking against the cold, and in that capacity they carry very well the fact of the old rejected lover; it is another thing to represent them as ruined choirs where the birds no longer sing. The latter is a just representation of the lover too, and indeed a subtler and richer one, but the two images cannot, in logical rigor, co-exist. Therefore I deprecate shake against the cold. And I believe everybody will deprecate sweet. This term is not an objective image at all, but a term to be located at the subjective pole of the experience; it expects to satisfy a feeling by naming it (this is, by just having it) and is a pure sentimentalism."(John Crowe Ransom, Shakespeare at Sonnets).

    Jack Miller His calling the poet an old, rejected lover is absurd. It is just the opposite.

    Alfred Corn Strange misreading. The insistence on objectivity is peculiarly obtuse.

    Bill Tremblay Isn't there also the historical allusion? Henry VIII institutes the Anglican Church. He has the Catholic monasteries and churches sacked for gold monstrances, &c. Churches burned; hence "bare ruined choirs" are not that way from age but from the sword and brand. Which is a figure for a man who's been ravaged. "In me thou seest ..." all these things.

    Jack Miller yes.

    Graham Christian That Ransom! no feeling for poetry at all! Yes, I'm joking.

    Jack Miller Now that I've spent a good part of two days reading articles, essays, and commentary on this and some other of the sonnets, I have to say that I am coming down on the side of silence before such greatness. So much misunderstanding and so many odd interpretations. Still, I just can't resist giving everyone a taste of the commentary. Comment on Sonnets 73 & 74
    Sonnets 73, 74, and 75 are a threesome connected by the ‘but’ of 74 and the ‘so’ of 75. Sonnets 73 and 74 are considered together followed by sonnet 75.
    Because of its lyrical progression of images, sonnet 73 is regarded as one of the great sonnets. Images of late autumn (73.1-4), the twilight of day (73.5-8), and glowing embers (73.9-12) arouse a ‘stronger’ love for life in the youth who realises that, like the aging Poet, he ‘must leave ere long’. But Shakespeare counteracts the idealistic element in sonnet 73 with the greater realism of sonnet 74. Images of autumn, sunset, and fire, give way to images of jail (74.1-4), earth (74.5-8) and worms (74.9-12).
    In sonnet 73, the Poet likens his aging years to autumn with its ‘yellow leaves’ (73.2), the cold wind in the ‘boughs’ (73.3) and evokes the image of choirs of birds now gone from bare branches (73.4). Then he pictures himself in the ‘twilight’ of the day after ‘Sun-set’ (73.6), as ‘black night’ or ‘death’s second self ’ (73. takes away the light.
    The Poet then compares his dying days to the ‘glowing’ fire in which ‘the ashes of his youth doth lie’. He is ‘consumed’ by the fire that once ‘nourished’ his youthful days. Significantly Shakespeare uses a cascade of natural imagery to evoke the relation of aging years to youthful energy. The only hint of ecclesiastical thought occurs in the negative metaphor of ‘ruined choirs’. (Some Christian commentators, beguiled by the artistry of the sonnet, imagine they hear a series of sympathetic religious attributions.)
    In the couplet, as the Poet approaches death, he notes with irony that the youth’s love is made ‘more strong’. The youth, instead, should love the life ‘well’ that he ‘must leave ere long’. The Poet’s quiet acceptance of the idea of death as a natural event should awaken the idealising youth to the natural processes he is inclined to neglect out of fear of death. Throughout sonnet 73 Shakespeare ironically critiques religions that use the psychology of fear.
    Sonnet 74 begins where sonnet 73 left off. The youth is told to be ‘contented’ with the ‘arrest’ that will take the Poet away ‘without all bail’ (74.2). The Poet takes the youth back to the first increase sonnet that set out the logical conditions for contentedness. He adds that his ‘life’ has ‘in this line’ some ‘interest’, which will stay with the youth as a ‘memorial’ (74.4). The reference back to the ‘lines’ of sonnet 18 recalls the logical relation between the lines of descent and the lines of poetry. Without descent there is no poetry.
    So when the youth ‘renews’ his life through increase, which is the interest on the capital of his life, he renews the ‘very part was consecrate to thee’ (74.6). Shakespeare facetiously uses the religious sense of ‘consecrate’ to emphasise that the youth will find true immortality through increase. The ‘earth can have but earth’, which is his ‘due’, because the Poet’s ‘spirit’ is the better part of him (74.. Again the sonnet contextualises religious allusions within the content of the Poet’s natural logic.
    The youth, then, stands to lose only the ‘dregs of life’, or ironically be the ‘prey of worms’ (74.10). The Poet is conquered by time’s ‘knife’ and is too ‘base’ to be ‘remembered’ (74.12). The irony is that religious idealism, which denies the body’s worth during a person’s life, prays to the body like a shrine when it is consigned to the earth.
    In the couplet, the Poet restates the lesson of the increase sonnets and sonnets such as 55. The worth of the Poet’s lines as a ‘memorial’ resides in ‘that which it contains’. The ‘this’ that remains with the youth, recalls the ‘this’ from sonnet 18, where the Poet says ‘so long lives this, and this gives life to thee’ (18.14). The increase sonnets (1 to 14), and the poetry and increase sonnets (15 to 19) insist that, without the lines of increase, the Poet’s lines have no worth. So ‘this’ is the ‘worth’ that Shakespeare Sonnets contain.
    Some commentators interpret ‘this’ as a reference to the sonnet’s ability to confer poetic immortality. But for the Poet, poetic immortality is conditional on the attitude to ‘life’ that the poetry ‘contains’. In sonnet 74, as in sonnet 18, the content of the verse ‘remains’ with the youth only if his lines of descent provide a future audience to read the lines of poetry. The Poet knows this is the only way the ‘spirit’ of any thought will ‘live’ after the body becomes the ‘prey of worms’. The idea is reinforced in sonnet 75, where the Poet says the youth is ‘to my thoughts as food to life’. http://www.quaternaryinstitute.com/sonnetcomment70to81.html

    Sonnet Commentaries 70-81


    Jack Miller This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long... Only the most perceptive writers realize that the lover perceives the aging of the poet as a reason to love him all the more strongly, knowing that his love, the poet himself, must leave ere long.

    Jack Miller The sonnet brings to mind, for me, Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, the latter who loved Isherwood so strongly that he drew his portrait over and over until his death.

    •                                                Chris By Don

      Alfred Corn Ah, Jack. If only.

      Edward Nudelman
      In keeping with Jack Miller's citations, here is Berryman's: "The fundamental emotion [in Sonnet 73] is self-pity. Not an attractive emotion. What renders it pathetic, in the good instead of the bad sense, is the sinister diminution of the time concept, quatrain by quatrain. We have first a year, and the final season of it; then only a day, and the stretch of it; then just a fire, built for part of the day, and the final minutes of it; then -- entirely deprived of life, in prospect, and even now a merely objective "that," like a third-person corpse! -- the poet. The imagery begins and continues as visual -- yellow, sunset, glowing -- and one by one these are destroyed; but also in the first quatrain one heard sound, which disappears there; and from the couplet imagery of every kind is excluded, as if the sense were indeed dead, and only abstract, posthumous statement is possible. A year seems short enough; yet ironically the day, and then the fire, makes it in retrospect seem long, and the final immediate triumph of the poem's imagination is that in the last line about the year, line 4, an immense vista is indeed invoked -- that the desolate monasteries strewn over England, sacked in Henry's reign, where 'late' -- not so long ago! a terrible foreglance into the tiny coming times of the poem -- the choirs of monks lifted their little and brief voices, in ignorance of what was coming -- as the poet would be doing now, except that this poem knows. Instinct is here, after all, a kind of thought. This is one of the best poems in English."(John Berryman, The Sonnets)

      Jack Miller Yes, I read this analysis as well. I just can't get past that first line. I don't see this sonnet as self-pity. Even if the last lines are about the youth's love of life, rather than his love of the poet himself (as I see it), where is the pity? It is about mortality, yes; but facing it heroically, tragically, if you will, but not with self-pity. Again, there are several back and forth articles written about whether the poet is to be pitied. I say no, and cling to my romanticism. And yes, Alfred, if only. I know.

      Alfred Corn The ban against self-pity ignores all the great works incorporating it. Besides, do you recall what Bishop's Crusoe said? (Roughly): "Pity like charity begins at home. So the more I felt pity, the more I felt at home."

      Jack Miller Guess I have some more thinking to do about this, and shall.

      Jack Miller After having read so many respected literary journals thanks to Emory, I decided to go ahead and slum it with Wikipedia. Why not see what they have to say. Every time I go to it, expecting little, I am taken aback by what I find. Judge for yourselves: The subject of Sonnet 73 is under debate among many critics. Agreeing that the obvious interpretation of Sonnet 73 forces the reader to face the fatality of life, John Prince says that the most common conclusion reached is that the speaker is telling his listener about his own life and the certainty of death in his near future. After going through a lengthy description that, on the surface, describes the passage of time and the coming of death, he concludes his dissertation by saying that the reader perceives this eminent death and, because he does, he loves the author even more. However, an alternative understanding of the sonnet presented by Prince asserts that the author does not intend to address death, but rather the passage of youth. With this, the topic of the sonnet moves from the speaker’s life to the listener’s life.[13]

      The key to these two interpretations lies in the very last line, “this thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, to love that well which thou must leave ere long”. The question that must be addressed is this: to whom or to what is “that” referring to, the speaker’s life or the reader’s? This alternative interpretation suggests that it refers to the reader’s life and therefore does not concern the death of the author, but rather the loss of youth of the reader. The last clause, which says “which thou must leave ere long”, emphasizes this point, because the reader must eventually leave his youth.[14] Prince explains this by saying:

      “Why, if the speaker is referring to his own life, does he state that the listener must ‘leave’ the speaker's life? If the ‘that’ in the final line does refer to the speaker's life, then why doesn't the last line read ‘To love that well which thou must lose ere long?’ Or why doesn't the action of leaving have as its subject the ‘I,’ the poet, who in death would leave behind his auditor?” [15]

      By understanding the last line to refer to the reader’s life, rather than the speaker, Prince concludes that the sonnet is not referring to death and leaving love, like most would but instead the loss of youth that all must endure.

      Additionally, Frank Bernhard criticizes the metaphors Shakespeare used to describe the passage of time, be it the coming of death or simply the loss of youth. Though lyrical, they are logically off and quite cliché, being the overused themes of seasonal change, sunset, and burn. In fact, the only notably original line is the one concerning leaves, stating that “when yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang, upon those boughs”.[16] Logic would require that few should proceed none; in fact, if the boughs were bare, no leaves would hang. Bernhard argues that Shakespeare did this on purpose, evoking sympathy from the reader as they “wish to nurse and cherish what little is left”, taking him through the logic of pathos – ruefulness, to resignation, to sympathy.[17] This logic, Bernhard asserts, dictates the entire sonnet. Instead of moving from hour, to day, to year with fire, then sunset, then seasons, Shakespeare moves backwards. By making time shorter and shorter, the reader’s fleeting mortality comes into focus, while sympathy for the speaker grows. This logic of pathos can be seen in the images in the sonnet’s three quatrains. Bernhard explains:

      “Think now of the sonnet's three quatrains as a rectangular grid with one row for each of the governing images, and with four vertical columns:
      spring / summer / fall / winter morning / noon / evening / night tree / log / ember / ashes
      These divisions of the images seem perfectly congruous, but they are not. In the year the cold of winter takes up one quarter of the row; in the day, night takes up one half of the row; in the final row, however, death begins the moment the tree is chopped down into logs”.[18]

      This is a gradual progression to hopelessness. The sun goes away in the winter, but returns in the spring; it sets in the evening, but will rise in the morning; but the tree that has been chopped into logs and burned into ashes will never grow again. Bernhard concludes by arguing that the end couplet, compared to the beautifully crafted logic of pathos created prior, is anti-climactic and redundant. The poem’s first three quatrains mean more to the reader than the seemingly important summation of the final couplet.[19]

      Though he agrees with Bernhard in that the poem seems to create two themes, one which argues for devotion from a younger lover to one who will not be around much longer, and another which urges the young lover to enjoy his fleeting youth, James Schiffer asserts that the final couplet, instead of being unneeded and unimportant, brings the two interpretations together. In order to understand this, he explains that the reader must look at the preceding sonnets, 71 and 72, and the subsequent sonnet, 74. He explains:

      “The older poet may desire to ‘love more strong’ from the younger man but feels, as 72 discloses, that he does not deserve it. This psychological conflict explains why the couplet hovers equivocally between the conclusions ‘to love me’, which the persona cannot bring himself to ask for outright, and ‘to love your youth’, the impersonal alternative exacted by his self-contempt”.[20]

      By reading the final couplet in this manner, the reader will realize that the two discordant meanings of the final statement do in fact merge to provide a more complex impression of the author's state of mind. Furthermore, this successfully puts the focus of the reader on the psyche of the “I”, which is the subject of the following sonnet 74.

      Buddhist scholars look to this sonnet to illustrate that the nature of love lies in the awareness of life's impermanence; a lesson often learned too late. Ultimately, the one who must be loved is ourselves as we march past all the warning signs, into the black night. The curious line 'death's second self' strikes at the duality between the objective perception of death in others and the ego's interpretation of that event. In a sense, this sonnet also reaches back into pagan images of pyres and sacrifice, as well as reaching into a future that, instead of exaltations of heaven's glory, urges the reader to take responsibility for their own relationship with reality. - Austin Sirch

      Jack Miller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnet_73

      Sonnet 73 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaen.wikipedia.org

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What to Do

Of all the means which wisdom acquires to insure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.- Epicurus
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it. -Albert Einstein 
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. -Martin Luther King, Jr. 

(Joseph Mydell as Casca,
eliminating Caesar)

As I sat in my bath today, recalling Marat in his, I asked myself once again what is one to do in a corrupt world awash in war, man-made climate change, starvation, ignorance, and bigotry? In particular, I asked what should I do. After all, I am no Voltaire, able to sway the minds of those who count (whoever they are). Certainly if one is brilliant and talented enough, one should, in the style of Voltaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Bertrand Russell, or a host of other truly great writers, offer up essays and articles and books of such sway as to enlighten people who actually have the power to alter the course of human affairs. 
If one is in a position to effect change through activism, as well as writing, all the better. Thank you, Larry Kramer. Thank You,  Your Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Thank you, John Lewis, activist and power broker true to the principles of MLK. Could I follow in their foot steps? 
What should a life-long academic, a lazy philosopher, a dabbler in writing and sometime protest marcher for this or that cause do? 

One of my closest friends has found his answer. He gets upon the stage and stabs dictators of old in an interpretation that has direct relevance to today's tyrants.. His plays and films offer a worldview sorely needed to counter the mush of ubiquitous mass media ( He has had major roles in Angels in America, A Season in the Congo, Julius Caesar...) 

Though I admire such diverse figures as Sartre, Allen Ginsberg, Edward Albee, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, Paul Krugman, and Bernie Sanders, who all have made a difference, I repeatedly fall back into the Philosophy of Epicurus. Why not live in a "garden" that stands for civilization, for art, for the exchange of ideas, for acceptance of difference and respect for life? I think of W.S. Merwin whom I met once and talked of the role of the poet in the time of Vietnam. Which of his poems resonate with us now? For me, such poems as Empty Water. I think of him in his garden on Maui. Doesn't living by example help the World? 

For now, in a world where discerning who is good, who is bad, and who is on what level in between, becomes lost in a digital maze of presentations, I have to go like a blind man, feeling my way in the darkness, going on intuition and what reason and intelligence I have, with the goals of having a humanitarian outcome, having a reverence for nature, and finding precious moments of joy and laughter with my friends and lovers. My only contributions, if they are such, are my writing, the teaching I have done, and the life my friends and I actually live, along with the principles we hold.

To the chief intensity: the crown of these
Is made of love and friendship, and sits high
Upon the forehead of humanity.

--Keats, Endymion

Our Garden (click)