About The Marginalian

Founded in 2006 as an email to seven friends under the outgrown name Brain Pickings. A record of Maria Popova‘s reading and reckoning with our search for meaning.

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No One You Love Is Ever Dead: Hemingway on the Most Devastating of Losses and the Meaning of Life

2024-05-22 05:26:07

"We must live it, now, a day at a time and be very careful not to hurt each other."

The Messiah in the Mountain: Darwin on Wonder and the Spirituality of Nature

2024-05-20 00:25:00

Here we are, matter yearning for meaning, each of us a fragile constellation of chemistry and chance hurtling through a cold cosmos that has no accord for our wishes, takes no interest in our dreams. “I can’t but believe that all that majesty and all that beauty, those fated and unfailing appearances and exits, are something more than mathematics and horrible temperatures,” Willa Cather wrote to the love of her life while watching the transcendent spectacle of Jupiter and Venus rising in the summer sky. “If they are not, then we are the only wonderful things — because we can… read article

On Giving Up: Adam Phillips on Knowing What You Want, the Art of Self-Revision, and the Courage to Change Your Mind

2024-05-18 00:24:33

"Not being able to give up is not to be able to allow for loss, for vulnerability; not to be able to allow for the passing of time, and the revisions it brings."

John Gardner on the Key to Self-Renewal Across Life and the Art of Making Rather Than Finding Meaning

2024-05-16 07:22:46

"The potentialities you develop to the full come as the result of an interplay between you and life's challenges."

Nothing: The Illustrated Story of How John Cage Revolutionized Music and the Art of Listening Through Silence

2024-05-14 00:30:34

"We make our lives by what we love."

What It’s Like to Be a Falcon: The Peregrine as a Portal to a Way of Seeing and a State of Being

2024-05-10 08:59:02

"You cannot know what freedom means till you have seen a peregrine loosed into the warm spring sky to roam at will through all the far provinces of light."

Flowers for Things I Don’t Know How to Say: A Tender Painted Lexicon of Consolation and Connection

2024-05-08 22:33:07

“To be a Flower is profound Responsibility,” Emily Dickinson wrote. From the moment she pressed the first wildflower into her astonishing teenage herbarium until the moment Susan pinned a violet to her alabaster chest in the casket, she filled her poems with flowers and made of them a lexicon of feeling, part code language and part blueprint to the secret chambers of the heart. The symbolic language of flowers peaked in Dickinson’s time, seeded by Erasmus Darwin’s radical romantic botany a century earlier and popularized by books like The Moral of Flowers, but humans have long heavied flowers with the… read article

Nature’s Oldest Mandolin: The Poetic Science of How Cicadas Sing

2024-05-06 01:41:58

“The use of music,” Richard Powers wrote, “is to remind us how short a time we have a body” — a truth nowhere more bittersweet than in the creature whose body is the oldest unchanged musical instrument on Earth: a tiny mandolin silent for most of its existence, then sonorous with a fleeting symphony of life before the final silence. Each summer, cicadas arrive by the billions with their strange red eyes, their mysterious prime-shaped periodic cycles, and their haunting nocturnal emergence, sudden and synchronized. For years they have lived underground, soft milky-white nymphs nursed by endosymbiotic bacteria through their… read article

The Universe in Verse Book

2024-05-01 20:11:48

"We need science to help us meet reality on its own terms, and we need poetry to help us broaden and deepen the terms on which we meet ourselves and each other. At the crossing point of the two we may find a way of clarifying our experience and of sanctifying it."

The Work of Art: Inside the Creative Process of Beloved Artists, Poets, Musicians, and Other Makes of Meaning

2024-05-01 20:10:13

“The true artist,” Beethoven wrote in his touching letter of advice to a young girl aspiring to be an artist, “is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun.” The choreographer Martha Graham called this particular shade of sadness “divine dissatisfaction.” It is something quite different from the small mean voice of the internal critic — it is rather a matter of “making your unknown known,” as Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in her magnificent letter of advice on the creative life to the young Sherwood Anderson, “and keeping the unknown… read article

The Wild Iris: Nobel Laureate Louise Glück on the Door at the End of Your Suffering

2024-04-30 05:17:08

"Whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice."

The Paradise Notebooks: A Poet and a Geologist’s Love Letter to Life Lensed Through a Mountain

2024-04-27 01:26:51

"Each world bears all the worlds we might find within it. If you understand one outcropping of stone, or one wildflower, or one hummingbird — if we see our way along the tracery of cause and effect, the mystery of change and recreation — then we are led to everything we see, and everything we are."

How to Tell Love from Desire: José Ortega y Gasset on the Chronic Confusions of Our Longing

2024-04-25 01:52:28

"Loving is perennial vivification... a centrifugal act of the soul in constant flux that goes toward the object and envelops it in warm corroboration, uniting us with it and positively affirming its being."

The Merger Self, the Seeker Self, and the Lifelong Challenge of Balancing Intimacy and Independence

2024-04-22 05:55:19

Each time I see a sparrow inside an airport, I am seized with tenderness for the bird, for living so acutely and concretely a paradox that haunts our human lives in myriad guises — the difficulty of discerning comfort from entrapment, freedom from peril. It is a paradox rooted in the early development of the psyche and most poignantly manifested in our intimate relationships as we confront over and over the boundary between where we end and the other begins, the challenge of balancing intimacy and independence. Pulsating beneath the paradox are two opposing forces — one tugging us toward… read article

Facts about the Moon: Dorianne Laux’s Stunning Poem about Bearing Our Human Losses When Even the Moon Is Leaving Us

2024-04-19 21:28:23

“Hearing the rising tide,” Rachel Carson wrote in her poetic meditation on the ocean and the meaning of life, “there are echoes of past and future: of the flow of time, obliterating yet containing all that has gone before… of the stream of life, flowing as inexorably as any ocean current, from past to unknown future.” There is indeed in the physics of the tides — that gravitational dialogue between our planet and its only satellite — something of the existential, something reminding us how transient all things are, how fluid the future, how slippery our grasp of anything we… read article

Shame and the Secret Chambers of the Self: Pioneering Sociologist and Philosopher Helen Merrell Lynd on the Uncomfortable Path to Wholeness

2024-04-17 21:31:18

"Experiences of shame throw a flooding light on what and who we are and what the world we live in is."

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: Uncommonly Lovely Invented Words for What We Feel but Cannot Name

2024-04-13 08:38:31

"Despite what dictionaries would have us believe, this world is still mostly undefined."

Home: An Illustrated Celebration of the Genius and Wonder of Animal Dwellings

2024-04-12 09:12:14

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy sighs in The Wizard of Oz. But home is not a place — it is a locus of longing, always haunted by our existential homelessness. “Welcome home!” a cheaply suited broker once exclaimed at me, swinging open the door to a tiny studio as my foot fell on the beige wall-to-wall carpet and my eyes on the two dead roaches embracing in the corner. Between the time I left my family home in Bulgaria in my late teens and the time I settled in Brooklyn in my late twenties, I moved in and out… read article

The Parts We Live With: D.H. Lawrence and the Yearning for Living Unison

2024-04-11 00:12:50

"We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos."

But We Had Music: Nick Cave Reads an Animated Poem about Black Holes, Eternity, and How to Bear Our Lives

2024-04-06 21:30:51

How, knowing that even the universe is dying, do we bear our lives? Most readily, through friendship, through connection, through co-creating the world we want to live in for the brief time we have together on this lonely, perfect planet. The seventh annual Universe in Verse — a many-hearted labor of love, celebrating the wonder of reality through science and poetry — occasioned a joyous collaboration with Australian musician and writer Nick Cave and Brazilian artist and filmmaker Daniel Bruson on an animated poem reckoning with this central question of being alive. BUT WE HAD MUSIC by Maria Popova Right… read article