Maria Popova

E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings by Edward Weston (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography)

So, if you didn’t know, E.E. Cummings is delightful. His words have this strange way of making you feel warm and wonderful inside. It’s probably because he’s a hoper, and hopers inspire.

This is prose. It’s a poetic narrative but not a poem.

It’s about the power of feeling feelings and how feeling feelings is the hardest thing in the world – harder than blowing up the world, actually. And it’s about how feeling feelings makes you the realest you.

From a hoper to (hopefully) another hoper, I present: A Poet’s Advice to Students by E.E. Cummings.

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

For more information, check out this article by Maria Popova.


brain_pickings_logo_printBrain Pickings is the result of Maria Popova’s pursuit of her own truth, the record of her becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into what it means to live a good life.

Popova is one of the most incisive literati of the 21st century. It’s no wonder 1.2 million people read her blog each month.

My introduction to it was this post about Leo Tolstoy’s efforts to find meaning in a meaningless world. Popova’s analysis and the content she shared were both remarkably inspiring.

For instance, here’s part of Popova’s description:

With his greatest works behind him, he found his sense of purpose dwindling as his celebrity and public acclaim billowed, sinking into a state of deep depression and melancholia despite having a large estate, good health for his age, a wife who had born him fourteen children, and the promise of eternal literary fame. On the brink of suicide, he made one last grasp at light amidst the darkness of his existence, turning to the world’s great religious and philosophical traditions for answers to the age-old question regarding the meaning of life.

And here’s Tolstoy’s experience, described in quintessential existential detail:

Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.


Had I simply understood that life had no meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my lot. But I could not satisfy myself with that. Had I been like a man living in a wood from which he knows there is no exit, I could have lived; but I was like one lost in a wood who, horrified at having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road. He knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still he cannot help rushing about. It was indeed terrible. And to rid myself of the terror I wished to kill myself.



Leo Tolstoy



Popova is a rare individual indeed – a renaissance woman keeping the spirit of wisdom, philosophical grasping, and cultural appreciation in the contemporary popular imagination.

Without her efforts, I may never have developed an appreciation for Tolstoy, existentialism, art, Kurt Vonnegut, Krista Tippett, and many other deeper aspects of life. In other words, I may not have become the same person because of the profound influence those things have had on my personal development.

Check out more of her work here: 

Literary Jukebox: Quotes from beloved books, each thematically matched with a song.

Anton Chekhov on the 8 Qualities of Cultured People

The Best of Brain Pickings 2017

I used to think that podcasts were a waste of time or just a thing for geeks. I thought that if you wanted to learn something, you should listen to audiobooks on Librivox or Audible.

But, in my junior year of college, I was introduced to a podcast for local government professionals, Govlove, which really helped me understand more about a topic I was starting to care a lot about. This warmed me to the idea of giving podcasts a shot.

My horizons expanded when I discovered this interview with Maria Popova from the wonderfully insightful Brain Pickings blog.

It was smart. It was engaging. It was deep. It was eye-opening.

And that was my introduction to On Being and the beautiful Krista Tippett.

With the insight into the power of podcasts revealed to me by On Being, I was compelled to seek out other podcasts. At first, it was other local government podcasts, but it gradually expanded as I listened more to public radio and continued to explore the meaningful nooks of the media.

So, over the past couple of years, I have discovered what I believe are some really great podcasts. They are similar in that they each offer interesting insights to the human experience and seek to expose you to facts or perspectives that challenge your way of thinking. I encourage you to give one you find even slightly interesting a try. It might change your life…

Click on them to learn more.