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Saturday, May 1, 2021
Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.
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Edith Wharton

This opening line of Edith Wharton’s dramatic monologue “Vesalius in Zante (1564)” feels like a breath of fresh air. Its speaker is Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), a Spanish, Inquisition-era anatomist who faced such backlash for his studies — scientific research was then forbidden — that, in despair, he burned his manuscripts and abandoned his calling. Vesalius could not bear a life of restricted inquiry forever, though. In his fifties he fled Spain for Jerusalem, yet on his way home was shipwrecked on a Greek island and died. Wharton’s poem, which imagines Vesalius’ final moments, ends as it begins, with a window: “Turn me in my bed. / The window darkens as the hours swing round; / But yonder, look, the other casement glows! / Let me face westward as my sun goes down.” Though the great man's life is ending, Wharton seems to say, it has been a satisfying one — defined, in the end, by truth and integrity.

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