#19: When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

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Hi Friends, if you’re just tuning in, every Wednesday, we talk Whitman! We are still trekking our way through the first section of Leaves of Grass, but I thought I’d mix things up a bit today. I was reading The New Yorker on the couch this Sunday, when I spotted a reference to a familiar face in this article: Ishion Hutchinson, Post-Post Colonial Poet, a review on Hutchinson’s second book of poetry, House of Lords and Commons.

But poets don’t want to be fodder for panels and colloquia, and Hutchinson’s poems are oppositional and disruptive, sometimes tauntingly so. “The Orator,” like Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” is a poem about poetry itself, its immediate purchase on the sublime, so much more powerful than classroom circumlocution. A lecture on “Caribbean Culture” is delivered by a “bore” who “was harping in dead metaphor / the horror of colonial heritage.” Suddenly, a thunderstorm knocks out the lights, and the lecturer now stands helpless in the dark

So I thought it would be fun to pull up Whitman’s poem next to Ishion’s. First up, Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much
applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This poem is so quintessentially Whitman to me – shunning higher education institutions for the power of poetry and nature. Next up, Hutchinson’s “The Orator.”

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Infinite Jest – Vocabulary II.

I had so much fun going through some of the vocabulary words I learned from the first chapter of DFW’s Infinite Jest (almost two months ago), that I thought I’d continue to share some of the more interesting words and sentences here. I am still slowly working my way through Infinite Jest, but I am hope to be able to devote a nice chunk of time to it over the winter holidays.

  • Presbyopia: prezbēˈōpēə (noun) – farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, occurring typically in middle and old age. Literally means old-eyed.

O. stood there, he says, hefting a cold clod, playing with the Velcro on his puffy coat, watching as the Moms, bent way down to me, hand reaching, her lowering face with its presbyopic squint, suddenly stopped, froze, beginning to I.D. what it was I held out, countenancing evidence of oral contact with same.

  • Enfilade: enfəˌlād (noun) -a volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end

Uncle Charles, a truly unparalleled slinger of shit, is laying down an enfilade of same, trying to mollify men who seem way more in need of a good brow-mopping than I.

  • Fantods: fantäds (noun) – a state or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness; the creeps!

Roaches give him the howling fantods.

  • Apocopes: əˈpäkəpē (noun) -losses of syllables from words, particularly unstressed vowels

Gately could easily have screwed out of there and never looked back; but here indeed, in the lamplight, is a seascape over next to the chiffonnier, and the associate has a quick peek and reports that the safe behind it is to laugh at, it can be opened with harsh language, almost; and oral narcotics addicts tend to operate on an extremely rigid physical schedule of need and satisfaction, and Gately is at this moment firmly in the need part of the schedule; and so D.W. Gately disastrously decides to go ahed and allow a nonviolent burglary to become in effect a robbery – which the operative legal difference involves either violence or the coercive threat of same – and Gately draws himself up to his full menacing height and shines his flashlight in the little homeowner’s rheumy eyes and addresses him the way menacing criminals speak in popular entertainment – d’s for th’s, various apocopes, and so on…

I was going to type out the whole sentence, but I flipped the page and realized the sentence continued for another half a page!

What are some of the books you’ve read which require a big dictionary every page or so? What are some of your favorite archaic words? I think Howling Fantods is one of the best phrases I have read in a while.

#18: The Ship Starting

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“The Ship Starting”

Lo, the unbounded sea,
On its breast a ship starting, spreading all sails, carrying even
her moonsails.
The pennant is flying aloft as she speeds she speeds so stately—
below emulous waves press forward,
They surround the ship with shining curving motions and foam.

Vocabulary Word of the Day:
Emulous: seeking to emulate or imitate someone or something.

I think this poem has a nice cadence to it, so I would recommend reading it out loud. I like the repetitive use of “she speeds, she speeds.” We’ve seen a lot of water and sailing imagery so far in “Leaves of Grass,” whether Whitman is comparing his book to a boat – the lone bark cleaving the ether – or calling himself a river man. I think Whitman uses water in many way. Oceans are both frontiers to be crossed and part of the natural world that Whitman champions. Water nourishes us as well as separates us from one another creating boundaries and borders. I should compile a list of some of the water metaphors that Whitman has used so far – I’m excited to see what Whitman does next!

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As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!

A pairing: 1Q84 and today’s supermoon

Expedition 50 Supermoon

There was just one moon. That familiar, yellow, solitary moon. The same moon that silently floated over fields of pampas grass, the moon that rose–a gleaming, round saucer–over the calm surface of lakes, that tranquilly beamed down on the rooftops of fast-asleep houses. The same moon that brought the high tide to shore, that softly shone on the fur of animals and enveloped and protected travelers at night. The moon that, as a crescent, shaved slivers from the soul–or, as a new moon, silently bathed the earth in its own loneliness. — Murakami, 1Q84

Photo credit: NASA

Review: Martha Stewart’s Vegetables

Sorry for the radio silence over here, friends. I was feeling pretty uninspired all of October, I don’t think I even finished a single book. And then this past week has been a doozy, hasn’t it? I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I have been pottering around the kitchen and taking a lot of naps. I thought I’d focus some of my energy away from politics and the news by adding what I hope becomes a regular column about Learning to Cook. Here, we will be doing our usual cookbook reviews, but also (hopefully) sharing other recipes and stories with you as well. What better way to start a culinary adventure than with Martha Stewart?


Martha Stewart, domestic and culinary goddess, recently released a new cookbook on Vegetables. I have been searching for ways to bring more veggies into my life. While I love salads and stews, sometimes you just want something different. Do not be fooled by the title, this is not a book for vegetarians. I was a little disappointed by this, because while veggies are in every recipe, they are not necessarily the star of each meal. I don’t need Martha to tell me I can add onions to a stir fry, do you?

The book is organized by types of vegetables – flowers, tubers, legumes, etc. While I can understand this categorization, I think I would have preferred the book to be organized by season. (I know, I know, you could also argue that different types of vegetables are also a form of eating seasonally.) There are photographs of each recipe, which I really loved. The food is all beautifully plated and presented – the photographs alone are worth flipping through the book to look at.

The first recipe I tried was her Roasted Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples, because I was feeling the autumn crisp in the air and excited for fall produce. I’ve shared the recipe below, along with some of my notes:

Ingredients:

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, each about 1 inch thick (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/3 cup apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 apples, preferably Honeycrisp, thinly sliced, seeds removed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat; swirl in oil. Cook chops until golden brown, turning once, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.

  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add potatoes and onion; season with salt. Cook until golden in spots, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and cider. Cover and simmer, stirring a few times, until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with caraway seeds. Return pork and juices to skillet; tuck apple slices between chops. Roast until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops (without touching bone) registers 138 degrees, about 10 minutes. Serve pork, vegetables, and apples with pan juices.

Jessica’s Notes:
I am not especially a fan of sweeter dishes. I generally prefer savory, spicy, & salty things. That being said, this recipe made some very juicy and tender pork chops. I think the combination of sweet potato, apples, and apple-cider vinegar was a little too much for me. I think next time, I would replace the sweet potato with normal potatoes and throw in some jalapenos or star anise for an extra kick. The recipe suggests you could use apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar, but I think the acidity of the vinegar is really necessary. As I’ve been cooking more and more, I have become feeling more confident about modifying recipes. I might try tweaking and writing my own recipes in the future.

The recipes in Martha’s book range from very simple salads to slightly more complex meals. I think it’s a pretty safe choice for beginner cooks like me, because you could slowly build a repertoire that you feel confident about. There are a wide range of recipes, so there will be something for any palate. I like that there are a manageable number of recipes, so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed the way you might when you’re browsing online.

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I would recommend this book to people who love beautiful cookbooks and who are looking for ways to incorporate more veggies into their lives. However, like most recipes, a lot of these are available on Martha’s website.

  • I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.

A Pairing: Norman Rockwell + Langston Hughes

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Norman Rockwell, Undecided (1944)

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Langston Hughes, Let America be America Again (1936)

#17: Savantism

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Happy Wednesday! We are almost through Part I of Leaves of Grass, isn’t that neat?

  Thither as I look I see each result and glory retracing itself and
      nestling close, always obligated,
  Thither hours, months, years—thither trades, compacts,
      establishments, even the most minute,
  Thither every-day life, speech, utensils, politics, persons, estates;
  Thither we also, I with my leaves and songs, trustful, admirant,
  As a father to his father going takes his children along with him.

This week’s poem is called “Savantism.”

Vocabulary Word of the Day:
Savant: a learned person, especially a distinguished scientist.

This poem threw me off at first — I wasn’t sure what the poem is about. But slow and steady wins the race, right? The poem seems like a leaf, gently swaying and blowing in the breeze, landing here and there (or should I say thither). Hither and thither?

I’m not sure what the third line means, the every-day life, speech, utensils. Is Whitman saying these are the things that we carry with us everywhere we go? Is this a poem about baggage?

In the last two lines, I think the leaves and songs that Whitman refers to are his poems. His poems are savants, wise and trustful beings, that Whitman carries along with him much as a father takes his children on trips.

I’ve been really enjoying the nature imagery and the light-hearted spirituality of the most recent set of poems. When I read them, the pages glow bright green in my mind, as if I were walking through a bamboo forest.

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As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!