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Sunday, October 24, 2021


Spoiler alert: this is about today’s New York Times crossword puzzle so if you like doing it and have not tackled it yet do not read this blog post.


I solved it today but I got stuck in one part of it for some while. There was a clue for a three word space that read something like “word that can be used either before or after pack.”  I thought about that for a bit and said to myself, “pack rat, rat pack” and filled in “rat.”  Well, it turns out the correct answer is “ice,” as in” pack ice, ice pack.”  I could not think of a third three – letter possibility. Can anybody?


On another matter entirely, I have been plugging ahead with my rereading of the books I will assign next semester in my course at UNC on political philosophy. One third of the course will be devoted to A Theory of Justice. I am going to ask the students also to read the book I wrote about Rawls as part of that segment of the course. I published it 44 years ago and have not looked at since. Yesterday I finished reading it for the first time since it appeared and I was appalled to discover how technical it is. I am afraid I am going to have to warn the students that this will be a very hard course. On the other hand, once they get finished with that we will move on to The Racial Contract by the late Charles Mills and that will be a really boffo way to wrap up the course. What a wonderful book that is and what a great loss for Mills to die so young.


But then all death is a great loss. Emily Dickinson somewhere wrote a poem asking why God requires us to die in order to see Him. Since He is omnipotent, He could have arrange things differently, after all.


Anonymous said...

"rat" ?

Anonymous said...

take that back, I didn't read carefully enough. To say that it's gloomy and very rainy in my part of California isn't much of an excuse, but it's the best one i can comeup with at the moment.

Unknown said...



David Gordon said...

For before and after "pack," "heat" might work

Jerry Brown said...


Another Anonymous said...

I don't know about "pack heat" and "pack jet."

But how about "the leader pack" and "the pack leader."

Jerry Brown said...

No. jet doesn't work.

Jerry Brown said...

pack heat works but there are four letters in heat. Maybe a domesticated elk could be part of a pack of elks or used as a means to carry baggage. Never heard of one though.

Another Anonymous said...


The alpha wolf in a wolf pack is the pack leader.

Another Anonmous said...

I retract everything I wrote about "leader pack," etc. I forgot that the word had to have no ore than 3 letters.

Ashamed said...

As long as we aren't limiting ourselves to one-word compounds... I'll submit this inane dialogue between two campers concerned with their s'mores supplies. Suppose they need 20 Hershey's bars.

Jack: "Tomorrow we'll wake up AND pack AND leave. We'll need ONE pack of 20 Hershey's bars."
Jill: "Right, we'll pack ONE."
Jack: "Or, if not THE pack of 20, could we pack THE TWO pack?"
Jill: "In that case, we would pack TEN."
Jack: "Or the TEN pack?"
Jill: "We would pack TWO."

Ahmed Fares said...

Emily Dickinson somewhere wrote a poem asking why God requires us to die in order to see Him. Since He is omnipotent, He could have arrange things differently, after all.

Normally, if you want to visit someone, you call and see if they're at home. With God it's the opposite.

“God, whose boundless love and joy
Are present everywhere;
He cannot come to visit you
Unless you are not there.”

― Angelus Silesius

It's because your existence is an illusion. When God appears, the illusion falls away.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” —Rumi

David Zimmerman said...


F Lengyel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
F Lengyel said...

Ass pack" (1950s slang, probably too refined for the NYT) and "pack ass" (a donkey).

Jerry Brown said...

Well that is a lot better than my elk pack idea. Although elks are rather beautiful creatures, at least from afar in pictures. Not that there is anything wrong with donkeys.

Anonymous said...


As in, "My gun pack is heavy with all of the supplies needed for the coming civil war"

Or, "His pack gun brought low many yankee aggressors"

Another Anonymous said...

Death was Emily Dickinson’s most prominent subject – its disappointment, its loss, its unfairness, its permanence its inevitability. When Prof. Wolff mentioned a poem by the bard of Amherst which was critical of God as a manipulator of human curiosity, I thought immediately of Ms. Dickinson’s most popular poem on the subject of death:

Because I could not stop for Death (479)
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

No, that’s not the one – no criticism of God there.

How about:

My life closed twice before its close (96)

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

No, again, no criticism of God.

And so, the hunt was on.

What about the obscure:

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died (591)

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

Wrong again – no expression of indignation aimed at God.

Or this:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (340)

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -

No, not the right one.

Nor this:

They dropped like Flakes (49)

They dropped like Flakes --
They dropped like Stars --
Like Petals from a Rose --
When suddenly across the June
A wind with fingers -- goes --

They perished in the Seamless Grass --
No eye could find the place --
But God can summon every face
Of his Repealless -- List.

Finally, there was this:

I know that He exists (365)

I know that He exists.
Somewhere – in silence –
He has hid his rare life
From our gross eyes.

’Tis an instant’s play –
’Tis a fond Ambush –
Just to make Bliss
Earn her own surprise!

But – should the play
Prove piercing earnest –
Should the glee – glaze –
In Death’s – stiff – stare –

Would not the fun
Look too expensive!
Would not the jest –
Have crawled too far!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Alas, I cannot identify the poem. I was relying on pillow talk with my first wife during the time when she was writing her great book on Dickinson.

Another Anonymous said...

Prof. Wolff,

I believe the last poem in the series, I know that He exists, is the poem you were referring to. Dickinson is portraying God as a hidden puppeteer, who takes pleasure in ambushing humans with death. God carries is jest too far.

Anonymous said...

"God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."

Ahmed Fares said...

re: God as a hidden puppeteer and the divine shadow play

Ibn Al-Farid (translation by Reynold Alleyne Nicholson)

Thou wonderest at their voices and their words —
Expressive unintelligible tongues!
On land the camels cross the wilderness,
At sea the ships run swiftly through the deep ;
And thou behold'st two armies — one on land,
On sea another — multitudes of men,
Clad, for their bravery, in iron mail
And fenced about with points of sword and spear.
The land-troops march on horseback or on foot,
Bold cavaliers and stubborn infantry ;
The warriors of the sea some mount on deck,
Some climb the masts like lances straight and tall.
Here in assault they smite with gleaming swords,
There thrust with tough brown shafts of quivering spears ;
Part drowned with fire of arrows shot in showers,
Part burned with floods of steel that pierce like flames ;
These rushing onward, offering their lives,
Those reeling broken 'neath the shame of rout ;
And catapults thou seest hurling stones
Against strong fortresses and citadels,
To ruin them. And apparitions strange
Of naked viewless spirits thou mayst espy ,
That wear no friendly shape of humankind,
For genies love not men.
And in the stream
The fisher casts his net and draws forth fish ;
And craftily the fowler sets a snare
That hungry birds may fall in it for corn.
And ravening monsters wreck the ships at sea,
And lions in the jungle rend their prey,
And in the air some birds, and in the wilds
Some animals, hunt others. And thou seest
Many a form besides, whose names I pass,
Putting my trust in samples choice, tho' few.
Regard now what is this that lingers not
Before thine eye and in a moment fades.
All thou beholdest is the act of one
In solitude, but closely veiled is he.
Let him but lift the screen, no doubt remains :
The forms are vanished, he alone is all ;
And thou, illumined, knowest that by his light
Thou find'st his actions in the senses' night.

Another Anonymous said...

Re-reading the Dickinson poems which I set forth above, I was particularly intrigued by “I heard a fly buzz when I died,” which I referred to as “obscure.” After several re-readings, this is my interpretation. Comments both pro and con are welcome.

Ms. Dickinson is comparing the decline in one’s senses as one ages to the buzzing confusion of a fly. She intermingles references to color with references to sound – the fly is a blue stumbling buzz, as one’s ability to distinguish sights and sounds diminish and confuse one with the other. And then the windows fail – one’s eyesight, so that one cannot see to see. Not a bad metaphor for the increasing losses as one ages.

I am not there yet, but Ms. Dickinson’s striking imagery leaves me apprehensive.

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