Archive for May 2nd, 2022

Strange Victory - GC Myers 1997

Strange Victory, 1997

Up early this morning, checking in on the news from Ukraine. The death and destruction just tear at the soul, but the reports and images of the Ukraine force’ gains bring moments of hope that sometime in the hopefully near future they will feel the joy that comes in overcoming long odds to emerge victorious.

It’s hard to reconcile the images of loss and devastation with any sense of victory’s elation or relief. But in any war where the invader is defeated or repelled, those two poles of reality often stand together in the aftermath. It made me think of a favorite poem from Sara Teasdale and an earlier painting from the 1990’s that was derived from that poem. It’s a poem that will no doubt have meaning for the people of Ukraine in the future.

Thought today would be a good morning to rerun a post on both from ten years ago. From 2012:

I woke up very early this morning with many things running through my mind. All sorts of thoughts and  imagery crowded my thoughts and I found myself thinking of this painting above, Strange Victory. It was painted many years ago and this is the only image I have of it, a photocopy that is much more washed out than the original so it doesn’t quite catch the subtlety of the snowfield. Though long gone, it has long been a favorite of mine as well as of my wife who calls it the Dr. Zhivago painting. It is perhaps the piece I regret letting go most of all. But at least I know where it is and know that it is loved and well cared for with its current owner.

I particularly like the barren feel of the snowy plain and the way the sky dominates and sets the emotional tone of the piece, its red tones set against the cold setting in a way that makes the moment seem large as the figure trudges slowly forward. The rifle slung over his shoulder with the gun barrel down gives it an ominous sense, as though this figure was returning from battle or returning empty-handed from a hunt for sustenance. The moment just seems to loom large in this piece.

The title came after the painting was complete and was based on a favorite poem from Sara Teasdale, the great and tragic American poet. Published in 1933 after her death via suicide in that same year, it is short and elegant, filled with the grand emotional swing of going from the depths of despair to an elation in finding someone familiar who has somehow survived where others have not. This simple discovery of a familiar survivor as something to rejoice in the face of what seems to be total loss is a victory in itself.

Just a powerful statement of existence.

So, while I am up much earlier than I normally would be, I find myself thinking of this painting and these words. There are worse things…

Strange Victory

To this, to this, after my hope was lost,

To this strange victory;

To find you with the living, not the dead,

To find you glad of me;

To find you wounded even less than I,

Moving as I across the stricken plain;

After the battle to have found your voice

Lifted above the slain.

Sara Teasdale

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