In early autumn, there is the Blessing of the Animals, a custom conducted in Catholic churches in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures. Francis’s feast day is October 4.

He wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”

At Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord often welcomes family pets with a special prayer.

The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this:
“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

autumn_leafOn a September day in 1819, 24-year-old John Keats wrote the ode “To Autumn.”

It had not been a great year. He wrote to his brother, “Nothing could have in all its circumstances fallen out worse for me than the last year has done, or could be more damping to my poetical talent.” He was suffering from a multitude of financial troubles throughout the year, including concerns over his brother, George, who, after emigrating to America, was badly in need of money.


Sketch of Keats by Charles Brown, August 1819, one month before the composition of “To Autumn”

But Keats wrote lots of poems that year. On September 19, he walked near Winchester along the River Itchen and the poem hit him.  He wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds two days later about the walk and the poem:
“How beautiful the season is now – How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it […] I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now […] Somehow a stubble plain looks warm – in the same way that some pictures look warm – this struck me so much in my sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”

It is one of the most anthologized poems in the English language, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy read.

The poem is interpreted as a meditation on death, an allegory of artistic creation, as his response to the Peterloo Massacre of that year and as an expression of nationalist sentiment.

“To Autumn” has three stanzas and three takes on the season through morning, afternoon and dusk.  First, early autumn’s fruitfulness. Then mid-autumn’s time of “labour” and then the decline and into winter.


That year of 1819 he write a series of odes including “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and “Ode to Psyche.” “To Autumn” was the last of these odes.

Keats died from tuberculosis less than two years later, at age 25.


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


A human brain overrun with cysts from Taenia solium.

Here’s a nice tale from science to start your weekend…

A blob in the brain is not the image most people have when someone mentions tapeworms. These parasitic worms are best known in their adult stage, when they live in people’s intestines and their ribbon-shaped bodies can grow as long as 21 feet. But that’s just one stage in the animal’s life cycle. Before they become adults, tapeworms spend time as larvae in large cysts. And those cysts can end up in people’s brains, causing a disease known as neurocysticercosis.

“Nobody knows exactly how many people there are with it in the United States,” says Nash, who is the chief of the Gastrointestinal Parasites Section at NIH. His best estimate is 1,500 to 2,000. Worldwide, the numbers are vastly higher, though estimates on a global scale are even harder to make because neurocysticercosis is most common in poor places that lack good public-health systems. “Minimally there are 5 million cases of epilepsy from neurocysticercosis,” Nash says.

He puts a heavy emphasis on minimally. Even in developed nations, figuring out just how many people have the illness is difficult because it is easy to mistake the effects of a tapeworm for a variety of brain disorders. The clearest proof is the ghostly image of a cyst in a brain scan, along with the presence of antibodies against tapeworms.

more at

It’s the Feast Day of Saint Michael or Michaelmas.

In the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches, it was once a very important day. It falls near the equinox and so marks the fast darkening of the days in the northern world.

This boundary of what was and what is to be, was the end of the harvest and the time to calculate how many animals could be feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered.

It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider.

Some people made this a night for a goose dinner, as an old English proverb says: “If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you will never want money all the year round.”

Michaelmas (mɪkəlməs) is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel also knowns as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.

In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Satan in the war in heaven.  He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland as one of the quarter days.

Old Michaelmas Day falls on October 10 or 11, depending on the source, and a according to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date. This is because, so folklore goes, Satan was banished from Heaven on this day, fell into a blackberry bush and cursed the brambles as he fell into them. It is said that the devil had spat or urinated on them.

Partial phase of the April 14-15, 2014 total lunar eclipse – photo by Fred Espenak

As I wrote last weekend, there is a total eclipse of the moon tonight (September 27-28, 2015).  Being that it is also the closest of this year’s supermoons, there is more drama to the event. For those of us north of the equator, it is a Harvest Full Moon (the one nearest the autumn equinox). It is many named lunar events!

You might also hear the term “Blood Moon” used because this is the fourth and final eclipse in four straight total eclipses of the moon, spaced at six lunar months (full moons) apart. That is known as a lunar tetrad.

The total lunar eclipse is visible from the most of North America and all of South America after sunset tonight.



As I get older, I have developed a theory that as we age we have more and more déjà vu experiences. I started to write this post yesterday and had to do a search on this site to see if I had already written on the topic. It felt like I had already done this. I had a déjà vu feeling about déjà vu.

There is an old joke about “It’s déjà vu all over again,” but lately that is true.

Is this phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event being experienced has already been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not, something real or just a trick of the mind?

The term déjà vu is from French, literally “already seen.”

If we turn to hard science, it rejects the explanation of déjà vu as “precognition” or “prophecy.” It is seen as just an anomaly of memory and so falls into the field of psychology.

I doubt that there are many readers who have not had the experience. No matter how powerful the present experience of recollection may be, the when, where, and how of the earlier experience often seems unclear or may even seem impossible. “I feel like I have been on this street in London before, but I have never even been in Europe before today!”

From my reading, three types of déjà vu experiences and explanations for them that seem to be studied. The first type is pathological and is associated with epilepsy and medical disorders. I find that much sadder and less interesting for my understanding of the phenomenon.

The non-pathological type affects healthy people and seems to be a psychological phenomenon. That is very interesting and seems to be what happens to most of us.

The third type is at the fringe and is the psychic or supernatural explanation.

A 2004 survey, tellingly titled “The Déjà vu Illusion,” concluded that approximately two-thirds of the population have had déjà vu experiences, but that the explanations are quite reasonable.

To quickly cover the pathological explanation, it seems to still be unproven that there is a clear connection between the experience and any one mental disorder like anxiety, dissociative identity disorder or schizophrenia. There is a pretty clear association of déjà vu is with temporal lobe epilepsy. The experience of déjà vu is possibly a neurological anomaly related to improper electrical discharge in the brain.

As you might expect, some drugs seem to increase the chances of déjà vu occurring in the user.

But I am more interested in research of déjà vu experiences in people not on drugs, with no disorders and with good memory function.

One way of explaining the phenomenon of déjà vu is the occurrence of “cryptomnesia.”  This is when there is information learned, then forgotten, but nevertheless stored in the brain. A present day occurrence that is similar invokes that knowledge and we have a feeling of familiarity though no clear “memory” of it.

Modern explanations of how memory works often describe it as more of a process of reconstruction, rather than a direct recall of an event that is forever fixed in our mind.  Each recollection is a reconstruction of those stored components, but each time we bring the memory back it contains some elaborations, distortions and omissions.

That means the tenth time you recall the event, it is a reconstruction of the ninth recollection and not of the original event. reminds me a bit of the old telephone game we played in school as kids. A quick look online tells me that I am not the only person to come up with that connection. (Though no one gave me grant money to do it.)

That recognition (déjà vu) involves the match between the present experience and our stored data.

Another theory of déjà vu connects it to having dreamt about a similar situation or place, and forgetting about it (as we so easily do with dreams) until sometimes reminds us of it later while awake. You can also find other “logical” ways to explain away these experiences. That street in London that seems so familiar? You have seen it in a film or on television, even though you don’t recall seeing it.

I had a very bizarre experience when I was in college that I couldn’t explain as anything but déjà vu. It’s a long story but in brief I seemed to know a lot about a house I had definitely never been to before. Later, a classmate (who was deep into the fringe sciences) told me that it was from a past life. I was not and am not a believer in past lives, but that did explain the occurrence more completely than any logic did.

And what about the less heard jamais vu (from French, meaning “never seen”). It’s a real term in psychology which is used to describe any familiar situation which is not recognized by the observer. Sometimes it is seen as the opposite of déjà vu. Jamais vu can also evoke a quite strange feeling. Have you ever had the impression of seeing a situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that you in fact have been there or been in that situation before?

I’m not talking about not recognizing a word, person, or place that you should know. That happens to me with increasing frequency! I would associate that with pathological reasons like certain types of aphasia, amnesia, epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease. But it can also occur because of simpler things like stress and fatigue.

The truly odd examples of jamais vu are when someone has no memory of one occurrence – perhaps the house they have lived in for five years – but also the feeling that they should know this place.

I did not know before I wrote this article (or at least I don’t remember knowing – the stupid humor cannot be avoided with this topic) that there were other variations.

Presque vu (“almost seen”) is the sensation of being on the brink of an epiphany, such as when attempting to recall a word or name.

Déjà entendu, (“already heard”) is the auditory version of feeling that you have already heard something, even though the exact details are uncertain or were perhaps imagined.

Have you had any of the experiences yourself?  Share with a comment.

Read More

Failure is not normally seen as a gift. It is not something we usually want or give thanks for getting. Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective. People view it as the opposite of success.

A failure may not be an achievement but can it be seen as a conversion or a correction following a failed attempt?

It is hard for most of us to overcome a lifetime of being told/taught/shown that failing is bad.  The Internet has a meme of “fail” or “epic fail” that accompanies photos, videos or descriptions of people or things falling short of expectations.

“To achieve great things – a plan, and not quite enough time.” ~ Leonard Bernstein

Failure has its fans and the gift of failure is not an idea that is the domain of myself or a few people. I heard a podcast that referenced Sarah Lewis’ book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery which gave me the title for this post. I have not read the book yet, but it seems to be a kind of biography of an idea told through the stories of artists and inventors like Samuel Morse, J.K. Rowling, physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, and an Arctic explorer.

Human endeavors, especially of the creative kind, more often end in failure than success.

I’ve failed over and over and that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan

Debbie Millman gave a nice graduation speech that was based on an essay titled “Fail Safe” from her collection Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design. On the idea of failing, she says that most of us “like to operate within our abilities” — stepping outside of them risks failure, and we do worry about it, very much.” Her real interest is in how we can “transcend that mental block, that existential worry, that keeps us from the very capacity for creative crash that keeps us growing and innovating.”

Part of the gift of failure comes from accepting the power of surrender.

“Play” whether it is organized as sport or is creative exploration appears to be, in many studies done, essential for innovation and success.

Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up. – Chinese Proverb

Can we learn to fail better? What Daniel Dennett (who I first encountered in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea) calls “intuition pumps are tools that he feels trigger thinking. His first (of 77) “pump” is “making mistakes.” These qualities are skills and not things we are somehow born with or lacking.

One of Sarah Lewis’ lessons in benefiting from failing is in the “near win.” It makes me think of sports and of the benefits of an athlete or team’s near win. My son when he was young had a coach who only cared about winning. He said that a second place finish was being “the best of the worst.” I hated that coach. I saw no benefit to his approach. I saw the harm he could do.

Lewis talks about master archers who spend many hours with a bow and arrow and their “doggedness” which she finds central to her thesis. For the archer, the success of  hitting the bull’s-eye can be viewed as something meaningful only if it can be done again and again. And we know that’s not possible.  The baseball batter who hits a home run and the team that wins a game will inevitably – and probably quite soon – strike out and lose.

We know that. So, why do we expect and desire otherwise?

Lewis cites  psychologist Thomas Gilovich who studied Olympic medal winners. He found that silver medalists were far more frustrated with having lost than bronze medalists. The near win was harder to take. She also  sites another study that  found that people were far more frustrated about missing a flight by five minutes than by thirty minutes. So close…

But, more importantly, she also notes that silver medalists are more likely to win the gold next time around. Is the “near win”a real push that causes the athlete to sharpen focus and try harder? Lewis writes that. “A near win shifts our view of the landscape. It can turn future goals, which we tend to envision at a distance, into more proximate events. We consider temporal distance as we do spatial distance.”

That doggedness or grit or whatever you want to call it is key to the practice of creation. Jersey inventor Thomas, who never claimed genius and had little education, famously said of his many failed attempts to create a feasible lightbulb:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Lewis uses as an example in The Rise the playwright August Wilson.  He preferred to write on paper napkins in restaurants, because that “illusion of impermanence” suppressed self-criticism and his words flowed more freely than when he set them down in type.

Finally, a sentiment that you’ll hear from many writers and artists about their own work is seen in Duke Ellington’s answer to that too-often-asked question of naming his favorite song: it was always the next one waiting to be composed.

Visitors to Paradelle

  • 282,902

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,378 other followers

Recent Photos

Newtonian experiment on notepad


Rabbit and Dragon

water lily 1

More Photos

I Recently Tweeted…

Tweets from Poets Online



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,378 other followers

%d bloggers like this: