Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Superb Splendor

Conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Venus. Photo: Demotix via.

A few months ago one my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings*, arrived with a very rare treat: The only surviving letter that Willa Cather wrote to her long-time partner, Edith Lewis.

I read My √Āntonia many years ago and have been a fan of Cather since. And Maria Popova's post reminded me why.

The letter is written at 4:30 pm on October 5, 1936, as Cather watches a Jupiter and Venus conjunction. It's a love letter to Edith, to the cosmos and to the magnificence of life and wonder.

"One hour from now, out of your window, I shall see a sight unparalleled — Jupiter and Venus both shining in the golden-rosy sky and both in the West; she not very far above the horizon, and he about mid-way between the zenith and the silvery lady planet. From 5:30 to 6:30 they are of a superb splendor — deepening in color every second, in a still-daylight-sky guiltless of other stars, the moon not up and the sun gone down behind Gap-mountain; those two alone in the whole vault of heaven. It lasts so about an hour (did last night). Then the Lady, so silvery still, slips down into the clear rose colored glow to be near the departed sun, and imperial Jupiter hangs there alone. He goes down about 8:30. Surely it reminds one of Dante’s “eternal wheels”. 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. If they are not, then we are the only wonderful things — because we can wonder."

I can see Willa dressed to receive the planets in the white silk suit, without a wrinkle, that Edith packed for her. You can read the entire letter here 

I share it today because tomorrow, look up in the eastern sky about an hour before sunrise and you will see Jupiter and Venus together at their closest conjunction this season. Mars and Mercury will also be there. You have until October 29, but the best day for all the planetary splendor will be tomorrow.  

To Willa and Edith.

 *If you don't subscribe/read Brain Pickings, you should. It's a daily blog/weekly newsletter of art and literature; poetry and journalism; and philosophy and science for the curious. Maria Popova does a splendid job of curating and finding things to get lost in.