~ Universe in Verse ~

The More Loving One by W. H. Auden

Auden’s poem animated by Taiwanese filmmaker Liang-Hsin Huang for The Universe in Verse, “A project by Maria Popova in partnership with On Being“. Here’s Popova’s post introducing the new video. A snippet:

In what may be the single most poignant one-word alteration in the history of our species, [Auden] changed the final line of the penultimate stanza to reflect his war-annealed recognition that entropy dominates all. The original version read: “We must love one another or die” — an impassioned plea for compassion as a moral imperative, the withholding of which assures the destruction of life. But the plea had gone unanswered and eighty million lives had gone unsaved. Auden came to feel that his reach for poetic truth had been rendered “a damned lie,” later lamenting that however our ideals and idealisms may play out, “we must die anyway.”

A decade of disquiet after the end of the war, he changed the line to read: “We must love one another and die.”

The reading is by Janna Levin, and Garth Stevenson composed the music.

Octopus Empire by Marilyn Nelson

James Dunlap animates art by Edwina White in a recent video from blogger Maria Popova’s wonderful Universe in Verse series, in collaboration with On Being, mixing science and poetry. Here’s how she sets this one up:

The octopus branched from our shared vertebrate lineage some 550 million years ago to evolve into one of this planet’s most alien intelligences, endowed with an astonishing distributed nervous system and capable of recognizing others, of forming social bonds, of navigating mazes. It is the Descartes of the oceans, learning how to live in its environment by trial and error — that is, by basic empiricism.

Meanwhile, in those 550 million years, we evolved into creatures that placed themselves at the center of the universe and atop the evolutionary ladder, only to find ourselves in an ecological furnace of our making and to reluctantly consider that we might not, after all, be the pinnacle of Earthly intelligence.

That is what Marilyn Nelson explores with great playfulness and poignancy in her poem “Octopus Empire,” originally published in the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day lifeline of a newsletter and now brought to life here, for this seventh installment in the animated Universe in Verse, in a reading by Sy Montgomery (author of the enchantment of a book that is The Soul of an Octopus) with life-filled art by Edwina White, set into motion by her collaborator James Dunlap, and set into soulfulness by Brooklyn-based cellist and composer Topu Lyo.

Click through to The Marginalian to read the rest (including the text of the poem). For more on Nelson, see her Poetry Foundation page.

Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Amanda Palmer reads Edna St. Vincent Millay in this animation by the award-winning children’s book author and artist Sophie Blackall, with music by Tom McRae. It’s last month’s installment for the wonderful Universe in Verse series, which we’ve been kind of sleeping on here. Maria Popova notes in her introduction to the series on her website that

The Universe in Verse was born in 2017 as a charitable celebration of the wonder of reality through stories of science winged with poetry — part resistance (to the assault on science and the natural world in an atmosphere of “alternative facts” and vanishing ecological protections) and part persistence (in sustaining the felicitous expression of nature in human nature, with our capacity for music and mathematics, for art and hope.)

For four seasons (below, in reverse chronology), it remained a live gathering — thousands of embodied universes of thought and feeling, huddled together in a finite space built in a faraway time when Whitman’s living atoms walked the streets outside.

In this interlude between gatherings, as we face the biological and ecological realities of life with widened eyes, I have entwined visions with my friends at On Being to reimagine the spirit of The Universe in Verse in a different incarnation, a year in the making: a season of stories about epoch-making events, discoveries, and unsung heroes from the history of science — this common record of our search for truth and the native beauty of reality — each illustrated in poetry’s lovely abstract language, with an animated poem.

Be sure to read the rest and check out all the films. We’ll share more of them here as time permits. I also strongly recommend Popova’s essay introducing “Dirge Without Music,” which for its “unsung hero” presents an engaging account of mathematician Emmy Noether (1882–1935). A stanza from Millay’s poem was read at her funeral.