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The Marginalian

Welcome Hello <<Name>>! This is a rare special edition of The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) by Maria Popova — the culmination of a yearlong labor of love. The regular weekly newsletter remains on its steadfast pulse-beat. If it enriches your life in any way, please consider making a donation — I am able to keep all of this free and ad-free (and myself alive) thanks to reader patronage. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

The Animated Universe in Verse: Complete Series

The Universe in Verse was born in 2017 as part celebration of the wonder of life and the splendor of reality, and part protest against the assault on science and nature — that is, on life and reality — in the era of “alternative facts” and vanishing environmental protections. An act of resistance and an act of persistence. Fierce insistence on the felicitous expression of nature in human nature, with our capacity for music and mathematics, for art and hope.

Spring after spring, this labor of love remained a live gathering. Then, in the gatherless disorientation of the pandemic, I joined forces with my friends at On Being to reimagine the spirit of The Universe in Verse in a different incarnation — a nine-part series of perspective-broadening, mind-deepening, heart-leavening stories about science and our search for truth, enlivened by animated poems with original music: emblems of our longing for meaning. Each miniature totality was brought to life by a different performer. Each shimmers with visual magic by a different artist and audible magic by a different musician. Each is a portable cosmos of gladness at the chance-miracle of aliveness: all of us, suspended here in this sliver of spacetime, with our stories and our poems and each other.

This series, offered freely to a world ever-needful of beauty and perspective, was a work of love that took orders of magnitude more labor and resources than anticipated. If it slakes your soul with gladness, please consider making a donation, however humble — such sustaining solidarity is what makes these colossal exertions of time, thought, and tenderness (which are the raw materials of livelihood) possible.

Here, at long and loving last, is the complete nine-part series in a single place:

CHAPTER 1 | BLOOM: The Evolution of Life and the Birth of Ecology

Poem by Emily Dickinson, performance by Joan As Police Woman, art + animation by Ohara Hale, lettering by Debbie Millman

CHAPTER 2 | MY GOD, IT’S FULL OF STARS: Henrietta Leavitt, Edwin Hubble, and Our Human Hunger to Know the Universe

Poem by Tracy K. Smith, art + animation by Daniel Bruson, music by Gautam Srikishan

CHAPTER 3 | ACHIEVING PERSPECTIVE: Trailblazing Astronomer Maria Mitchell and the Poetry of the Cosmic Perspective

Poem by Pattiann Rogers, reading by David Byrne, art by Maira Kalman, animation by SALT Project, music by Jherek Bischoff

CHAPTER 4 | LET THERE ALWAYS BE LIGHT: Dark Matter, Astronomer Vera Rubin, and the Mystery of Our Mortal Stardust

Poem by Rebecca Elson, reading by Patti Smith, art + animation by Ohara Hale, music by Zoë Keating

CHAPTER 5 | SINGULARITY: An Ode to Our Primeval Bond with Nature and Each Other

Poem by Marissa Davis, performance by Toshi Reagon, art + animation by Lottie Kingslake)

CHAPTER 6 | DIRGE WITHOUT MUSIC: Emmy Noether, Symmetry, and the Conservation of Energy

Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, reading by Amanda Palmer, art + animation by Sophie Blackall, music by Tom McRae

CHAPTER 7 | THE MORE LOVING ONE: The Science of Entropy and the Art of Alternative Endings

Poem by W.H. Auden, reading by Janna Levin, art + animation by Liang-Hsin Huang, music by Garth Stevenson

CHAPTER 8 | OCTOPUS EMPIRE: Nonhuman Consciousness and the Wonder of Octopus Intelligence

Poem by Marilyn Nelson, reading by Sy Montgomery, art by Edwina White, animation by James Dunlap, music by Topu Lyo

CHAPTER 9 | THE WONDER OF LIFE: An Ode to the "Atoms with Consciousness" and "Matter with Curiosity" That We Are

Poem by Richard Feynman, performance by Yo-Yo Ma, art + animation by Kelli Anderson


Every month, I spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars keeping The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) going. For fifteen years, it has remained free and ad-free and alive thanks to patronage from readers. I have no staff, no interns, not even an assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. If this labor has made your own life more livable in the past year (or the past decade), please consider aiding its sustenance with a one-time or loyal donation. Your support makes all the difference.

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