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By Margaret Atwood


via The Future of Books


Words once in common use sound archaic. And the names of the famous dead as well: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus…Scipio and Cato…Augustus…Hadrian and Antoninus, and…

Everything faces so quickly, turns into legend, and soon oblivion covers it.

And those are the ones who shone. The rest–”unknown, unasked-for” a minute after death. What is “eternal” fame? Emptiness.

Then what should we work for?

Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4, #33 (Translated by Gregory Hays)


Mocking Myself for Planting Trees

At seventy I still plant trees,
but don’t take me for an idiot.
Though death has always been inevitable,
I don’t know the date!

– Qing dynasty poet Yuan Mei (1716-1798)


From David Orr’s article on “Greatness” in poetry:

“What is strange,” the poet-critic J. D. McClatchy writes, “is how her influence . . . has been felt in the literary culture. John Ashbery, James Merrill and Mark Strand, for instance, have each claimed [Elizabeth] Bishop as his favorite poet. . . . Since each of them couldn’t be more different from one another, how is it possible?”

It’s possible in the same way that other “great” artists have inspired diverse sets of peers and progeny.

There’s the old story about the Velvet Underground, that not many people actually heard them, but nearly everyone who did went and started a band. Were they great? I think some of their songs are — the droning “All Tomorrow’s Parties” has been a favorite of mine since I was twelve or thirteen. Detractors grumble about them playing out of tune, the unevenness of their rhythm section, the sloppy mixing, or the chaotic performances.

But beyond those petty complaints, what better legacy could you ask for than seeding an entire generation that grew in so many different directions?