I’m including an article from this week’s New Yorker about a surviving poem by Lucretius, and one from a local paper about my reading this week in Mok Hill. It’s in the current issue (brown and green cover dated August 8th, 2011), available to subscribers at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/08/110808fa_fact_greenblatt#ixzz1UHtfJqc0
I can’t include the entire New Yorker article but here is an abstract of On the Nature of Things: (“De Rerum Natura”). Lucretius, who was born about a century before Christ, was emphatically not our contemporary. He thought that worms were spontaneously generated from wet soil, that earthquakes were the result of winds caught in underground caverns, that the sun circled the earth. But, at its heart, “On the Nature of Things” persuasively laid out what seemed to be a strikingly modern understanding of the world. Every page reflected a core scientific vision—a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe—imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. Wonder did not depend on the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius, it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way he thought we should live—not in fear of the gods but in pursuit of pleasure, in avoidance of pain. As it turned out, there was a line from this work to modernity, though not a direct one. The poem was lost, apparently irrevocably, and then found. During the Dark Ages, copies of “On the Nature of Things” somehow made it into a few monastery libraries, places that had buried, seemingly forever, the principled pursuit of pleasure. By chance, a monk laboring in a scriptorium somewhere or other in the ninth century copied the poem before it moldered away. And, by chance, this copy escaped fire and flood and the teeth of time for some five hundred years until, one day in 1417, it came into the hands of a man who proudly called himself Poggius Florentinus, Poggio the Florentine. Even a quick glance at the first few pages of the manuscript would have convinced Poggio that he had discovered something remarkable. What he could not have grasped, without carefully reading through the work, was that he was unleashing something that threatened the whole structure of his intellectual universe. To people haunted by images of the bleeding Christ, gripped by a terror of Hell, and obsessed with escaping the purgatorial fires of the afterlife, Lucretius offered a vision of divine indifference. There was no afterlife, no system of rewards and punishments meted out from on high. Some six or seven decades after Poggio returned the poem to circulation, atomism was viewed as a serious threat to Christianity. The sense of threat intensified when Protestants mounted their assault on Catholic doctrine. That assault did not depend on atomism—Luther and Zwingli and Calvin were scarcely Epicureans—but for the militant, embattled forces of the Counter-Reformation it was as if the resurgence of ancient materialism had opened a dangerous second front. Discusses Lucretius’s influence on Montaigne, Shakespeare, Newton, and other writers and scientists. Describes going to the Laurentian Library in Florence to see a centuries-old copy of “De Rerum Natura.” Writer also tells about the poem’s effect on his own thoughts about mortality.
What do we seek in poetry?
by Antoinette May, New York Times bestselling Novelist
According to an expert, Kevin Arnold, it’s the unexpected, the undreamed of. What is found in poetry is that which is so often passed over in daily life: the miraculous. Poems are necessary because they honor the unknown both in us and in the world . . .
Here’s her entire article: http://www.antoinettemay.com/enterprise/bookworm/articles/signings.html
Causes Kevin Arnold Supports
Poetry Center San Jose, East Palo Alto Police Activities League (EPA PAL), Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Yale Writing Conference, Gold Rush Writers