Tuesday, January 5, 2010

an error in the calculation

A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Czeslaw Milosz
translated by Anthony Milosz

I read this lovely, thought provoking poem, posted by Relyn and
thought it so apropos for the new year. Not only thoughts about
seizing the day and living life to its fullest, but being good stewards
of the earth, as well.

It also brought to mind the rather humorous story of my fourth
great-grandfather, Rev. Robert Goodloe Harper Hanna. "Harper"
was one of the earliest ministers in Carroll County, Indiana. He
belonged to a denomination known as the Primitive Methodists and
preached the Millerite doctrine. If he believed this radical doctrine,
personally, he certainly failed to impress the outside world with his

Here's the account, according to the History of Carroll County,
Indiana by Thomas Helms, Chicago: Kingman Brothers, 1882.

One morning in April, 1848, John Payton rode by Hanna's farm
and saw him setting out an orchard. The inconsistency of his
preceding at once struck Payton, who elected that a number of
years must elapse, in any event, before he could expect any
return of his labor, and if the final destruction of the world were
so nearly at hand, was not his an unnecessary outlay of labor?

With this in mind, Payton addressed him:

"How is this, Brother Hanna? This is April, and if your
account is correct, the end of the world will come in
June next. It scarcely looks consistent to be doing
such work so nearly the borders of eternity."

"Oh well", replied Hanna, "we can't tell exactly; there
may have been an error in the calculation."

photo from The Library of Congress


  1. By all that happens it could be any moment! Miscalcualtion indeed!
    Fabulous post!

  2. I added just a few more photos...
    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. wonderful and thought provoking verse...i imagine it deifferent thatn any of us can imagine...and here's to hoping the calculations are off, but if they are thats alright by me...

  4. We just neva neva know.. so lets give thanks and glory due to whom its due and live life to the fullest as you say! Great post!
    The Bach

  5. What fun. I love the story of your great+4 grandfather. You just never know and if you're wrong, there might as well be a few more trees in the world :)


  6. Willow, oh! That post is my favourite post ever. I adore it. The poem is so beautiful and the story is just incredible. I had only been thinking such thoughts earlier. Even if the world is to end tomorrow, we have to do what we can today, of the work we love, for the people we love, for life itself. And 'the borders of eternity.' What an amazing title for a story!

  7. When will people wake up to the idea that true fullfilment doesn't come with no deposit and nothing to pay for two years?

    I think this poem says it all.

  8. Yes, Martin, Milosz paints the picture perfectly!

  9. All that, unless...a gamma ray burst! I like the guy who said the Mayan's just ran out of rock.

  10. fantastical post!!! love love love it! such layers of lessons for us all - and the familial connection, just great great!!!

  11. Oh that is so nice! Thank you for showing me a new poet, and for your thoughts, enriching the poem.

  12. Wonderful poem: wonderful story!

    There was a rabbi who once told his students " If you are planting a tree and you hear that the Messiah is at the city gate, first finish planting the tree before you go to greet him."

    Priorities -- so important.

  13. Vicki, wise, wise words from the rabbi. They fit in so well with my post, too.

  14. If anyone is keeping score...this post is one of the best! The ART of it is all pieces falling effortlessly together to create the whole...lovely Willow.

  15. my few raisins: swelling with the lusciousness of having read the Milosz poem and the thread round to Hanna's "there may have been an error in calculation".
    and may we all inhale every breath deeply, as if it were our last...well, that's dramatic. i'll go with seize each day! all the best, willow.

  16. Thank you, Willow, for posting one of my favourite poems. I printed it out when I first read it, several years ago, and tacked it to my office wall. It was my introduction to Czeslaw Milocz, and now I've become a real fan of his work.

  17. 'An error in the calculation." I'll have to remember that.

  18. Hello Willow,

    Happy New Year to you! What a poetic end/start to the year you have given us, whether it be Edna, Frost or your own words; I read the poem over at Relyn's too. I was so glad that you managed to collect your little ship from a foreign harbour and had a wonderful time together. Hope the silver sunsets went down a treat. We still have ham to eat from New Year but I may well try your soup recipe once the bone is stripped!

    I marvel at your energy and inventiveness for posting and look forward to enjoying more of Willow Manor during 2010. I'm glad the world hasn't ended yet!

  19. Sandra, I just ordered his "New and collected poems, 1931-2001" from the library. I can't wait to dive in. I think I'm in love.

  20. Derrick, I bless the day I met you in the blogosphere, dear friend.

  21. my kids were asking if the world was going to end in 2012. "hmmm" i answered "i can't say for sure but maybe you'd like to look at this list of dates on which the world was going to end and come to your own conclusions . . . . " my kids and everyone who knows me knows i live my life for the day. it's a great way to be. everything's pure magic. even the ugly stuff!! have a lovely evenign at the manor. steven

  22. Very interesting post. Thought-provoking, also. And I loved the story about your great-grandfather.

  23. Steven, you're the first one who has mentioned the 2012 issue. I would have thought there would be more discussion on the topic. Wise words to your kids. I'm curious, how many dates were on that list of doom?

  24. Willow...your posts are so inspiring...I always enjoy reading them so much..and YES ! your place is all set and we are ready to fire up the bbq......

    more later, dear friend

  25. Oh that's priceless - what a great story (and thought provoking poem too!).

  26. I thought that YOU had written the poem till I saw the name at the end...how d'ya like THEM apples?

  27. Hahaha! I love that! An error in the calculation. That should certainly keep us on our toes, shouldn't it? And how fabulous that you have such a family history!

  28. Oh that was great. I think things will change and change and keep on changing and the world will look different, but I don't believe there will be an end of the world. Of course, that could be a miscalculation.

  29. As so many errors have gone before and after... A lovely post dear Willow.
    May your year be a bright and proaperous one and at least some of your dreams come true.

    XOX Arija.

  30. Eej, THEM are some good apples. I'm flattered you actually thought so. :):):)

  31. There's always room for error...so carpe diem!

  32. Love both the poem and the anecdote about your ancestor. He had a great attitude!

  33. You're re-awakening my long tucked away love of poetry. Thank you. I'm going to browse to see what I can find.

  34. I guess we should all be grateful every second, and be ready - just in case...

  35. Wonderful poem! I like that a lot. Something about it reminded me a little bit of Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts."

  36. Mrs. Willow, love the post! I think that we all could wish for a fortuitous "error in calculation." Your welcome snow poem is such a celebration...joyous acceptance of your beautiful winter season. Love the photograph of your Cherokee g-gg grandmother...I wishI had one of mine...it makes the connection feel real.
    Have a wonder-filled year ahead!

  37. this is the way the world ends
    this is the way the world ends
    not with a bang
    but a whimper.

    Excellent poem and wonderful story. Thanks, Willow.

    Personally, I don't believe the end of the world will surprise us. I think we'll spot the the meteor whose collision with earth does the job many decades before it hits us.

  38. Love the Milosz poem. And your great-great-grandfather was a pip!

  39. Love the Milosz poem. And your great-great-grandfather was a pip!

  40. I love the post. It's a lesson we seem to always need reminding of: all we have is NOW. We humans have such a habit of always looking everywhere but NOW and missing the wonders of what is going on NOW. (Well, us bloggers and artists and writers tend to work a little harder at paying attention...)

    Oh yeah - and the story. Family stories add so many layers to who we are and how we see, flavouring the NOW with something different everytime we tell them.

    Real pleasure as always, Willow.

  41. Believe it or not, I had actually heard that story. How is that possible? And, how amazing that it turns out to be your greatx4 grandfather! Isn't the world a wonder?

  42. And now you have posted one of MY favorite poets-- there is a line from one of his poems that always lingers in my memory-- about 'entering the clarity of early morning'

  43. Willow,
    Live 'til you don't. No sense frettin' 'bout it; it'll come when it comes!

  44. Yes, a good poem for the start of a new year. And, I dare say, the day the world ends for me will be just like any other for everyone else other than the few who are close to me. My mothers' Cousin Ada was a Primitive Methodist and there were (and still are) quite a few Primitive Chapels around here although, if my memory serves me well, they used to prefer meeting out on the open moors.

  45. You did well to bring this one to us. Extremely well, he's a fine poet.

  46. So happy to see that Milosa poem--I've liked it for years; & love your anecdote!

  47. Comforting thought by Milosz: the end of the world will be a day like any other.
    We'll still have to get up and go to work the next morning. :-)

  48. Great thinkers. I think the Mayans just got tired of making calendars....

    The Blue Ridge Gal

  49. Relyn, I can't believe you've heard the story of my RGH Hanna. Wow, what a small world. Amazing.
    Thanks, again, for the inspiration for this post, dear friend!

  50. I love it, willow - wonderful poem and fantastic story.

  51. Interesting to me is that "today" is history and "tomorrow" is the future and they go quick enough.

    I wonder if the angels with turn a look as we are vaporized?

  52. Your family history is so captivating..Love reading these tid-bids that you share about those colorful ancestors of yours:)

    And..I absolute echo Bach and Lady Cat..."Carpe Diem!"

  53. Willow,

    You have such an interesting and diverse family history. Love the insights into your ancestry. As for the poem, I feel it predicts that we should all be prepared at all times. Given the state of our world today the time may actually be nearer than we think. I, too, hope the calculations are off a bit. Many things left to do...

  54. Lets All Cross Fingers Today And Pray For Errors !

  55. It's the journey, not the destination. Oh yeah!

  56. "The end is near" how many times have we been off by the hair on our chinny chin chins? Good to know there are near miss possibilities. At least our imperfections bring miscalculations as well to save our bacon! Millerite branch? Are these sects prone to doom-bastia? Who really cares anyway, got to go sometime!

  57. An error in the calculation, eh? Well, I suspect he is stuck in an infinitely regressing loop.

  58. Oh I think I will have to delve into Milosz too...wonderful poem...and wonderful story to go with it...Great post willow:) Thanks!

  59. Actually, i bet Hana was glad he kept his work up there, as indeed will be the 20 twelvers or were the new millenium, computer crashers as well! a fascinating historical post nonetheless.

    Ok, going to have to look up Carp diem now! Can't remember. Isn't that bad? Well, it is 12:32 am so can I use that as my excuse? Hee.

  60. Amazing poem, it shakes me to the very core. What a keeper.

  61. Well here's three cheers for errors in calculation. Loved the poem and how you tied in the story of your fourth great-grandfather.

  62. Thank you for sharing that poem. It's new to me, but I loved it instantly; it's rhythm struck a chord, and it's going straight into my notebook.

  63. I too read this wonderful though provoking poem at relyn's, printed it, and posted it on my daily board.

    Happy New Year my friend!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)