Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) calculates orbital insertion trajectories for the Mercury program using Euler’s method in this scene from the movie Hidden Figures. Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

AL HARRISON:
You think we can get to the moon?

[Katherine nods, with all the certainty in the world:]

KATHERINE:
We’re already there, sir.

Hidden Figures (2016)

 

“Darkness”

photograph by Adam Winger via Unsplash

When hurrying home on a rainy night
And hearing tree-tops rubbed and tossed,
And seeing never a friendly star
And feeling your way when paths are crossed:
Stop fast and turn three times around
And try the logic of the lost.

Where is the heavenly light you dreamed?
Where is your hearth and glowing ash?
Where is your love by the mellow moon?
Here is not even a lightning-flash,
And in a place no worse than this
Lost men shall wail and teeth shall gnash.

Lightning is quick and perilous,
The dawn comes on too slow and pale,
Your love brings only a yellow lamp,
Yet of these lights one shall avail:
The dark shall break for one of these,
I’ve never known this thing to fail.

— John Crowe Ransom
 

“The Soul selects her own Society”

photograph by Haydn Golden via Unsplash

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

— Emily Dickinson
 

“my beloved, isiZulu”

photograph by Ben Koorengevel via Unsplash

I can see the house on the hill where we make our own vegetables out back
and drink warm wine out of jam jars
and sing songs in the kitchen until the sun comes up
wena you make me feel like myself again.

— Yrsa Daley-Ward, “sthandwa sami (my beloved, isiZulu)” (excerpt)
 

“I dare say he was alone, and had no one to love him”

photograph by RODNAE Productions via Pexels

“When I left you I found an organ-grinder in Russell Square playing to a child; and the simple fact that there was a child listening to him, that he was giving this pleasure, entitled him, according to my theory, as you know, to some money; so I put some coppers on the ledge of his organ, without so much as looking at him, and I was going on when a woman said to me: ‘Yes sir, he do look bad, don’t he? scarcely fit like to be working.’ And then I looked at the man, and O! he was so ill, so yellow and heavy-eyed and drooping. I did not like to go back somehow , and so I gave the woman a shilling and asked her to give it to him for me. I saw her do so and walked on; but the face followed me, and so when I had got to the end of the division, I turned and came back as hard as I could and filled his hand with money — ten to thirteen shillings, I should think. I was sure he was going to be ill, you know, and he was a young man; and I dare say he was alone, and had no one to love him.”

— Letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to Mrs. Sitwell, November, 1874
 

A Christmas Carol

photograph by Sarwer e Kainat Welfare via Pexels

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

— Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Man in the Mirror

 

“EACH life converges to some centre”

photograph by Hadwt via Unsplash

EACH life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility’s temerity
To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment
To touch,

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints’ slow diligence
The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life’s low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring
Again.

— Emily Dickinson

Finally Found A Home

 

The Great Gatsby

photograph by RODNAE Productions via Pexels

I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it…

The Great Gatsby

Walk On Water

 

“A Time to Talk”

photograph by Zac Ong via Unsplash

WHEN a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

— Robert Frost
 

“O despairer, here is my neck, By God, you shall not go down!”

photograph by SHVETS production via Pexels

I seize the descending man and raise him with resistless will,
O despairer, here is my neck,
By God, you shall not go down! hang your whole weight upon me.

— “Song Of Myself”

That’s Why I’m Here

 

“Who goes with Fergus?”

photograph by Tim Foster via Unsplash

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

— W. B. Yeats
 

“cry I can no more”

photograph by Ryan Byrne via Unsplash

NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come…

— Gerard Manley Hopkins
 

“To me, fair friend, you never can be old”

photograph by Anthony Tran via Unsplash

TO me, fair friend, you never can be old
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion…

— Sonnet CIV

Roll with the Changes

 

“Soli Deo Gloria”: Grand Central, December, 1982

Grego, Street Musician (2014)

“Soli Deo Gloria”: Grand Central, December, 1982

onrushing out into the
42nd street passage
huddled in the corner
frayed and fallen
drifted from the street
in pieces and broken-down
Yamaha nylon string guitar
the third Brandenburg
reverberated, echoed, re-echoed
transfixed and transfigured
I put all my money in his well-worn open case
It was almost Christmas

— J.S.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048 – III. Allegro by TXGQ

“Think Not All Is Over”

photograph by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Think not, when the wailing winds of autumn
Drive the shivering leaflets from the tree,—
Think not all is over: spring returneth,
Buds and leaves and blossoms thou shalt see.

Think not, when the earth lies cold and sealed,
And the weary birds above her mourn,—
Think not all is over: God still liveth,
Songs and sunshine shall again return.

Think not, when thy heart is waste and dreary,
When thy cherished hopes lie chill and sere,—
Think not all is over: God still loveth,
He will wipe away thy every tear.

Weeping for a night alone endureth,
God at last shall bring a morning hour;
In the frozen buds of every winter
Sleep the blossoms of a future flower.

— Harriet Beecher Stowe
 

“WHY, who makes much of a miracle?”

photograph by Jason King via Unsplash

WHY, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky…
Or talk by day with any one I love…

— Whitman, Leaves of Grass (“Miracles”)

Miracles

 

“Thel’s Motto”

photograph by Mikita Yo via Unsplash

Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole:
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?
Or Love in a golden bowl?

— William Blake, from “The Book of Thel”

The Rainbow Connection

 

Free Rein

Frank T. Merrill, “Hercules frees Prometheus from the rock” (1904)

Meanwhile, during the first flush of success and before the release of “Fantastic,” we’d decided that Wham!’s creative reins should rest solely with George if we were to achieve the scale of success we believed was in our reach. I had long recognized his ability… The decision still smarted a little, but it was the right one: George was so clearly developing into a writer of rare ability; indeed it was the desire to realize the potential of that gift which drove him to become a solo artist, free of our band’s constraints…

— Andrew Ridgeley, “Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir”


Defying Gravity

“Convalescence”

photograph by Oveth Martinez via Unsplash

From out the dragging vastness of the sea,
Wave-fettered, bound in sinuous seaweed strands,
He toils toward the rounding beach, and stands
One moment, white and dripping, silently,
Cut like a cameo in lazuli,
Then falls, betrayed by shifting shells, and lands
Prone in the jeering water, and his hands
Clutch for support where no support can be.
So up, and down, and forward, inch by inch,
He gains upon the shore, where poppies glow
And sandflies dance their little lives away.
The sucking waves retard, and tighter clinch
The weeds about him, but the land-winds blow,
And in the sky there blooms the sun of May.

— Amy Lowell

Just One Victory

 

“Instructions on Not Giving Up”

photograph by Johan Godínez via Unsplash

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

— Ada Limón

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

“GOING to him! Happy letter! Tell him—”

photograph by Jan Tinneberg via Unsplash

“GOING to him! Happy letter! Tell him—
Tell him the page I did n’t write;
Tell him I only said the syntax,
And left the verb and the pronoun out.
Tell him just how the fingers hurried,
Then how they waded, slow, slow, slow;
And then you wished you had eyes in your pages,
So you could see what moved them so.

“Tell him it was n’t a practised writer,
You guessed, from the way the sentence toiled;
You could hear the bodice tug, behind you,
As if it held but the might of a child;
You almost pitied it, you, it worked so.
Tell him—No, you may quibble there,
For it would split his heart to know it,
And then you and I were silenter.

“Tell him night finished before we finished,
And the old clock kept neighing ‘day!’
And you got sleepy and begged to be ended—
What could it hinder so, to say?
Tell him just how she sealed you, cautious,
But if he ask where you are hid
Until to-morrow,—happy letter!
Gesture, coquette, and shake your head!”

— Emily Dickinson


2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)

“Wrong, Tony,” he said, and shook his head.

photograph by Laurent Gence via Unsplash

“Wrong, Tony,” he said, and shook his head. “My courage does not go down to zero because I have a piece of bad luck. It’s the other way on. I believe in that, and events show it.”

— Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks (Tr. Lowe-Porter)

In The House Of Stone And Light

photograph by Samantha Hentosh via Unsplash

“…since you can’t sleep, and Mamma can’t either, we mustn’t go on in this stupid way; we must do something; I’ll get one of your books.” But I had none there. “Would you like me to get out the books now that your grandmother is going to give you for your birthday?”

— Proust, Swann’s Way

In The House Of Stone And Light

“ONCE, in a house on egypt street”

“Edward?” said Abilene.
Yes, said Edward.
“Edward,” she said again, certain this time.
Yes, said Edward, yes, yes, yes.
It’s me.

— Kate DiCamillo, The miraculous journey of Edward Tulane

All my instincts, they return
The grand façade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside…

In Your Eyes

Fern Hill

photograph by Zachary Nelson via Unsplash

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means…

— Dylan Thomas

I Don’t Wanna Know

“God’s Grandeur”

photograph by Rosie Kerr via Unsplash

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

Day by Day

“The quality of mercy is not strained.”

photograph by Mikita Yo via Unsplash

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

The Merchant of Venice

“Barter”

cf. video by Kindel Media via Pexels

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

—Sara Teasdale, “Barter” (excerpt)

“Crazy Crazy Nights” by Kiss

“legato con amore in un volume”

James Jowers, Tompkins Sq. Park (1967)

Nel suo profondo vidi che s’ interna,
legato con amore in un volume…

I saw within its depth how it conceives all things in a single volume bound by love…

— Dante Alighieri, “The Divine Comedy: Paradiso”

Love Song

“Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere…”

photograph by Brina Blum via Unsplash

A NOISELESS patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor
hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Leaves of Grass

Make Your Own Kind Of Music

The Cimmerians

photograph by Myicahel Tamburini via Pexels

…when the sun went down and darkness was over all the earth, we got into the deep waters of the river Oceanus, where lie the land and city of the Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the heavens…

Odyssey


Now That We Found Love

“Keats, walk a hundred yards over the rim”

cf. photograph by Felix Russell-Saw via Unsplash (edited digital collage)

“Keats, walk a hundred yards over the rim”

Keats,
leave the Piazza di Spagna
walk a hundred yards over the rim
I have your penicillin
I won’t let you go
there are more poems to write
and she is still waiting for you

— J.S.
(cf. “The Twilight Zone”, Season 2, Episode 23, 1961)

Love Lies Bleeding

“I come no more to make you laugh…”

photograph by Andrei Tarkovsky

I come no more to make you laugh: things now,
That bear a weighty and a serious brow,
Sad, high, and working, full of state and woe,
Such noble scenes as draw the eye to flow,
We now present…

Henry VIII

Yes We Can Can

“The heart comes out of hiding…”

Alicia Chen, “Girl listening to music by window” (ca. 2015)

Music—the world that might be,
and yet the world as it is. The heart
comes out of hiding, saying to us:
“Listen, you can say anything you want now.
Here is the instrument.”

— Robert Winner, The Instrument (excerpt)

This above all: to thine own self be true

Hamlet

Natural Thing

“Ceci n’est pas une intersection.”

Photograph by Daniel Monteiro via Unsplash

Ceci n’est pas une intersection.

In the warm twilight
I am translated
refracted
at the red light
the song on the radio
preternatural
holding, as ‘twere,
the mirror up to nature
and unravels my heart

— J.S.

Inside Out

“Sanctuary”

John Phelan, Berklee College of Music, Boston Massachusetts (2011) via Wikimedia Commons

My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet’s the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.

— Dorothy Parker

Finally Found A Home