The Value of Solitude

16th-century icon of Simeon Stylites, who lived for decades at the top of a column. At the base of the column is his mother’s body. (Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland)

“The greatest thing in the world,” Montaigne writes, “is to know how to belong to oneself.”  And for taking possession of oneself, solitude is indispensable. Not everyone must retreat to a tower as Montaigne did, but to sustain solitude in communal form monks adopt a discipline of silence, and the poet Rilke cherished his marriage as a solitude of two. The important thing is that one find a refuge from the busy-ness of worldly affairs. Joseph Epstein recounts his own discovery of solitude’s pleasures and virtues, exploring also how it relates to writing, death and loneliness.

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