Facts and Poetry

Thoreau always had two notebooks—one for facts, and the other for poetry. But he had a hard time keeping them apart, as he often found facts more poetic than his poems. They are, he said, translated from the language of the earth into that of the sky. Thoreau knew that the imagination uses facts to fabricate images and even delicate architectures. One summer night, looking up into the sky at a particularly beautiful, scintillating star, he thought perhaps another traveler somewhere else along the coast was, like him, looking up at that same star and said, ‘Of what unsuspected triangles are stars the apex?’”

— Jean Frémon, “Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Gloves”

Progress is Never Permanent

“I am a citizen as well as an individual soul and one of the things citizenship teaches us, over the long stretch, is that there is no perfectibility in human affairs… In this world there is only incremental progress… It might look small to those with apocalyptic perspectives, but to she who not so long ago could not vote, or drink from the same water fountain as her fellow citizens, or marry the person she chose, or live in a certain neighborhood, such incremental change feels enormous… We will never be perfect: that is our limitation. But we can have, and have had, moments in which we can take genuine pride… Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”

Zadie Smith

The Greater the Wave

“The power of an ocean wave is directly related to the speed and duration of the wind that sets it in motion, and to the ‘length of its fetch,’ or the distance from its point of origin. The longer the fetch, the greater the wave. Nothing can stop these long waves. They become visible only at the end, when they rise and break; for most of their fetch the surface of the ocean is undisturbed.”

— Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (via Bryce Wilner)