The Marginalian Newsletter.


This is the midweek edition of The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) by Maria Popova — one piece resurfaced from the fifteen-year archive as timeless uplift for heart, mind, and spirit. If you missed last week’s archival resurrection — reclaiming friendship: a visual taxonomy of platonic relationships to counter the commodification of the word “friend” — you can catch up right here. And if my labor of love enriches your life in any way, please consider supporting it with a donation — it remains free and ad-free and alive thanks to reader patronage. If you already donate: I appreciate you more than you know.

FROM THE ARCHIVE | We Grow Accustomed to the Dark: Emily Dickinson’s Stunning Ode to Resilience, Animated

How do we survive the unsurvivable? What is that inextinguishable flame that goes on flickering in the bleak, dark chamber of our being when something of vital importance has been lost? “All your sorrows have been wasted on you if you have not yet learned how to be wretched,” Seneca’s timeless insight into the key to resilience bellows from antiquity, echoed by the contemporary social science finding that psychological “grit” is the single most significant predictor of triumph over hardship and success in life. “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us,” the Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön offered in exploring how to thrive when things fall apart.

Loss visits every human life. The degree of our acceptance and the grace with which we adapt to the sudden descent of darkness — that is, to borrow the splendid term William James borrowed from Margaret Fuller, “the manner of our acceptance of the universe” — may be the greatest measure of skillful living.

That is what Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886) addresses in a stunning poem titled — like all of her poems, which the poet herself always left untitled — after the first line: “We grow accustomed to the Dark,” composed during a time of personal loss and immense transformation for Dickinson, while the Civil War rages about her. Included in the indispensable Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (public library), it comes to life in this lovely short film animated by Hannah Jacobs and produced by Massive Science founder Nadja Oertelt for Harvard’s eight-part series Poetry of Perception, exploring representations of sensation and perception through the literary and visual arts.

We grow accustomed to the Dark —When Light is put away —As when the Neighbor holds the LampTo witness her Good bye —

A Moment — We Uncertain stepFor newness of the night —Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darknesses —Those Evenings of the Brain —When not a Moon disclose a sign —Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —And sometimes hit a TreeDirectly in the Forehead —But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —Or something in the sightAdjusts itself to Midnight —And Life steps almost straight.

Complement with Dickinson, the poet laureate of finding light amid the darkness of being, on making sense of loss and her stunning forgotten herbarium — an elegy for light at the intersection of poetry and science — then revisit other enchanting animated adaptations of great poems: “Optimism” by Jane Hirshfield, “The Man with the Beautiful Eyes” by Charles Bukowski, and “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman.

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ/WATCH ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/09/18/we-grow-accustomed-to-the-dark-emily-dickinson-animation/ on Facebook

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KINDRED READINGS:

Bloom: Emily Dickinson’s Pre-Ecological Poem About Ecology, Set to Song and Animated

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Emily Dickinson’s Electric Love Letters to the Love of Her Life

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Dark Matter and the Mystery of Our Mortal Stardust: Patti Smith Reads “Let There Always Be Light,” Animated

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I Measure Every Grief I Meet: Emily Dickinson on Love and Loss