“It is clear that Van Gogh was not mainly concerned with correct representation. He used colors and forms to convey what he felt about the things he painted, and what he wished others to feel. He did not care much for what he called ‘stereoscopic reality,’ that is to say, the photographically exact picture of nature. He would exaggerate and even change the appearance of things if this suited his aim… [He] took the momentous step of deliberately abandoning the aim of painting as an ‘imitation of nature’… Van Gogh felt that by surrendering to visual impressions, and by exploring nothing but the optical qualities of light and color, art was in danger of losing that intensity and passion through which alone the artist can express his feeling to his fellow men.”
E.H. Gombrich, “Chapter 26: In Search of New Standards,” The Story of Art, 15th edition
La noche cae, brumosa ya y morado. Vagas claridades malvas y verdes perduran tras la torre de la iglesia. El camino sube, lleno de sombras, de cansancio y de anhelo. De pronto, un hombre oscuro, con una gorra ye un pincho, roja un instante la cara fea por la luz del cigarro, baja a nosotros de una casucha miserable, perdida entre sacas de carbón. Platero se amedrenta.
—Vea usted… Mariposas blancas…
El hombre quiere clavar su pincho de hierro en el seroncillo, y no lo evito. Abro la alforja y él veo nada. Y el alimento ideal pasa, libre y cándido, sin pagar su tributo a los Consumos.
This Spanish poem is featured on Wrestle with the Angel in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15.
“Mariposas blancas” (“White Butterflies”) is the second chapter in the poetic book Platero y Yo. In it, the poet and his donkey Platero are stopped by a customs officer wanting to know what they carry in their bags. “Look for yourself,” the poet replies. “White butterflies.” The officer sees nothing “and so the food for the soul passes, freed and candid, without paying tribute.”
Jiménez, Spanish poet and winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize in Literature, was an advocate of “pure poetry.” He famously said, “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
“I repeated it quietly, pacing around the room, while my little brother worked addition problems. I supposed I was quiet, and I supposed the poem dull and incomprehensible to a five year old, but, when I paused for a breath, he asked with quiet urgency, ‘Why did he run away?’
“I laughed with delighted surprise, and he smiled at me gravely and expectantly. How had he understood that an escape had been made? How we persist in underestimating children!
“‘Well, he was at school, and he was learning about stars,’ I explained, ‘but the teacher talked and talked and showed him numbers and more numbers and charts and diagrams, and he had to add…’
“My brother nodded sympathetically.
“‘He had to add, divide, and measure everything. Finally, he was so sick and tired, he just got up and left and went outside to look quietly at the stars.’
“My brother sighed, relieved and thoughtful.
“‘Sometimes,’ I continued, surrendering once more to my pedagogic tendencies, ‘we should stop talkking about beautiful things, and just enjoy them.’
“‘Yeah,’ he agreed.
“Chastened, I returned to my recitation, and he to his sums.”
—”Why He Ran Away.” Cabbages and Kings. January 2011.
A Little Poetry—Medieval apothecaries sought diligently after a mythical substance that would change base metals to precious gold. In George Herbert’s most famous poem, he employed this legendary elixer, or tincture, as a metaphysical conceit to describe the heavenly transformation of ‘drudgerie’ into divine service. It’s a poem I have dedicated to memory, a reminder to be deliberate in dedicating all my work to the Lord. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24.
(In literature, a conceit is an extended metaphor with a complex logic that governs a poetic passage or entire poem.)
A Fine Picture—”I’ll tell you that we’re having some superb autumn days, and that I’m taking advantage of them,” Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in October 1889, and sent him a number of “studies” including The Mulberry Tree. Vincent was staying at the Saint Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, following his estrangement from Ganguin and subsequent nervous breakdown. Like the mulberry tree growing on the rocky hillside, he created beauty in a hard place; his thick brushstrokes flame on the canvas in vivid blues and oranges. Vincent sent Theo more paintings that December, but wrote that The Mulberry Tree remained his favorite.
A Little Poetry—The autumnal fall of leaves is a reminder of man’s mortality. Little Margaret weeps, for, though she has no words for the thought, her heart aches with the recognition. In this poem “To a Young Child,” Hopkins used the Germanic “sprung” rhythm that counts only accented syllables, and used words of Germanic origin (with three exceptions). Two words—’wanwood‘ and ‘leafmeal’—Hopkins created on a Germanic basis. The effect is strangely primal but beautiful.
The word ‘ghost‘ here is used to mean the living spirit.
A Little Music—Natalie Merchant beautifully sings Hopkin’s poem to orchestral accompaniment, on her album Leave Your Sleep. This was my introduction to “Spring and Fall.” <http://www.nataliemerchant.com/l/leave-your-sleep/spring-and-fall-to-a-young-child>
Goethe said that everyone should read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day, to prevent worldly cares from overcoming our sense of the beautiful. Get your daily dose of beauty at Wrestle with the Angel.