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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

I came across a short quote from the late Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, that I wanted to share here:

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”

I found that these words came from his speech given at his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. But while researching this quote, I came across this other poem that really spoke to me. I thought I would share this as well. It was written in Warsaw, Poland in 1944 in the midst of the German army’s destruction of that city.

Basically, he is saying that though the world might seem to be in chaotic and deadly turmoil, that the world for some is ending, there are those who will not notice it. The sun is shining  as it always does and the moon will rise soon after as it, too, always does. Birds sing and fish swim as they always do. People go about their days, working and playing, as they always do.

How can this be the end of the world if such things go on unaffected?

But the end he may be describing may not be the actual end of the world, though for some it surely does. The world is always changing sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large swipes. Every change means the end of one world and the beginning of another. Perhaps, while he is surely pointing to an actual ending of worlds for his neighbors in WW II Warsaw, he is also referencing a symbolic ending to worlds of innocence, of worlds of gentleness, replaced with worlds of violence and treachery.

I don’t know for sure but that is how I am reading it. Take a look and decide for yourself.

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A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

–Czeslaw Milosz   (1911-2004)

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I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep ;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap :
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpine

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This is the last painting I finished from the group of work that is coming with me on my trip to Alexandria tomorrow, when I will be at the Principle Gallery for my annual Gallery Talk. which begins at 1 PM. I call this painting, which is an 8″ by 24″ canvas, At the End of Time.

This was a trying painting for me. It just never felt right through the whole process and at several points I was ready to trash it. But there was something in it that kept me at it, something that wouldn’t let me just black it out and build anew. It wasn’t until it was 99% complete that it suddenly transformed into a living, breathing piece with its own vitality.

I went from hating this piece to a point where I haven’t been able to look away from it for the last few days.

It seems to have a message and a sense of weary finality. The words of Swinburnes The Garden of Prosperine, an excerpt of which is shown above, mesh beautifully with this image. At least, as I see it.

I am not going to fully describe how I see this now. I don’t want to taint your own impression of this painting, if I haven’t already done so by now.

Maybe if you come to the Gallery Talk tomorrow and ask me, I will tell you the personal meaning behind some of the elements in this piece. We’ll see.

But please feel free to come to the Gallery Talk tomorrow, Saturday, September 21, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. It starts at 1 PM and after about an hour which includes some talking, assorted questions and answers, a few laughs, a couple of feats of strength, a brief operatic solo and a little soft shoe, I will be giving away some stuff, including the painting Light Emanation. Plus there are some what you might call neat parting gifts and there may or may not be an additional painting awarded.

You will have to come to find out. I am not saying for sure.

Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Seriously, hope you can make it. I advise you to get there early to beat the crowd, claim a seat and enter the drawing. We can fill the time with a little pre-Talk chat, if you like.

 

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The Gallery Talk was a bit of fun on Saturday at the West End Gallery. But more than that, it gave me a bit of hope being in the midst of people who were concerned at that moment with things that affirm our own existence rather than condemn the existence of others. As I said in the talk, I am pro-affirmation. It became a running joke on Saturday but I would like to believe it is true.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more of those who condemn the existence of others out there today. Maybe it is the same amount as always. But they feel emboldened and have the ear of a president* who will say and do anything to maintain his control.

And along with them, there are a lot of folks who have refused to pay attention and just assume that it will work itself out without them needing to lift a finger or even think about it. These folks are the ones who really worry me, maybe more than those who willingly hate others, who willingly despoil our world, who knowingly twist the rule of law and gleefully profit from it all.

These folks who just turn a blind eye enable them because they think they have no power to stop anything. They accept a gentle cut here or there. It doesn’t hurt anyone they know so what’s the harm? But in doing so, they move the line for what is acceptable and normal away from where it has been for generations. Soon, the cuts are not gentle any more and hurt some of the people around them, maybe even themselves. And the line for what is normal keeps moving away from them to create a world they couldn’t have imagined when they weren’t paying attention.

They will be as powerless then as they feel now. But, in fact, they have the power to stop much of it now if they simply open their eyes and refuse to accept this new normal. They must pay attention, they must speak out, to act if needed. But most of all, they must be willing to say “No.”

How do you make these sleeping giants understand that they need to turn their eyes to this situation? That’s a tough one. The great poet Wendell Berry wrote this poem below, Questionnaire, back in 2009 and it asks us how much awfulness we are willing to accept as normal. We need to answer with great honesty if we want to live in a world that is acceptable and beneficial for the most of us.

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QUESTIONNAIRE
by Wendell Berry

  1. How much poison are you willing
    to eat for the success of the free
    market and global trade? Please
    name your preferred poisons.
  2. For the sake of goodness, how much
    evil are you willing to do?
    Fill in the following blanks
    with the names of your favorite
    evils and acts of hatred.
  3. What sacrifices are you prepared
    to make for culture and civilization?
    Please list the monuments, shrines,
    and works of art you would
    most willingly destroy.
  4. In the name of patriotism and
    the flag, how much of our beloved
    land are you willing to desecrate?
    List in the following spaces
    the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
    you could most readily do without.
  5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
    the energy sources, the kinds of security,
    for which you would kill a child.
    Name, please, the children whom
    you would be willing to kill.

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“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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The painting shown above is Light and Wisdom, part of my show, Moments and Color, that is currently on the walls of the West End Gallery. It’s a personal favorite of mine and one that I think sometimes get overlooked by other work that is larger or brighter. Maybe it’s just that I see a lot of personal symbolism in it. The background of the sky resembles a maze which symbolizes the search for something, for example. And it has my recurring symbols of the Red Roofs, the path that runs toward a distant point, the guide trees that frame the scene, the far horizon and, of course, the Red Tree arriving at a moment of realization in the form of the light from the rising sun.

It’s a meaningful piece for me and my hope is that others will see that in it as well.

I love the lines below it from T.S. Eliot, feeling that they express so well what I see in this painting. Life often feels like a constant search for some vaguely defined object– knowledge, wisdom, love, experience, etc.– that will make us somehow whole. Yet, as is often the case, we only reach wholeness within ourselves, in that place where the journey began. Maybe that is why I chose this painting for this bit of verse from Eliot– it has a sense of wholeness that has been ultimately fulfilled by realizing that the answer was in itself.

The answer, the light that illuminates our meaning, is always near, always just waiting for us to really see it for what it is.

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You can see Light and Wisdom at the West End Gallery where I will be giving my annual Gallery Talk this coming Saturday, August 17, beginning at 1 PM. As mentioned here before, the Gallery Talks always features some great conversation, some laughs, occasional tears and the pièce de résistance, a drawing for an original painting — or maybe two?–along with some other pretty neat prizes. Hope you can make it there!

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Bazonka

Hard to believe I’ve been doing this blog for nearly eleven years now. It’s just part of what I do now so I don’t really think about it much. I was going over some stats from the site and found that the entry below from ten years back, in late August of 2009, has the most views of any single post, well over a hundred thousand hits. It’s a silly bit of verse from the late British-Irish comedian Spike Milligan called Bazonka.

In a world where everyone is trying to tell you what you should do, saying Bazonka might not be the worst advice you’ll get today. So, let me be the first to say it. Bazonka!

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BAZONKA

Say Bazonka every day
That’s what my grandma used to say
It keeps at bay the Asian Flu’
And both your elbows free from glue.
So say Bazonka every day
(That’s what my grandma used to say)

Don’t say it if your socks are dry!
Or when the sun is in your eye!
Never say it in the dark
(The word you see emits a spark)
Only say it in the day
(That’s what my grandma used to say)

Young Tiny Tim took her advice
He said it once, he said it twice
he said it till the day he died
And even after that he tried
To say Bazonka! every day
Just like my grandma used to say.

Now folks around declare it’s true
That every night at half past two
If you’ll stand upon your head
And shout Bazonka! from your bed
You’ll hear the word as clear as day
Just like my grandma used to say! 

— Spike Milligan

 

 

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For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

William Butler Yeats,

From To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

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I can’t say that I am a big Bill Kristol fan, the conservative political analyst, but yesterday he deftly used the excerpt above from a W.B. Yeats poem to describe the Mueller hearing of the day before. It so well described an honorable man dealing with the current occupant of the white house* and his minions in congress* that I wanted to know a bit more about that particular piece of verse.

It turns out that the poem from which those lines come is titled To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing that was included in a small volume of poems called Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-13.

The poem is at the bottom of the page and at first I thought it referred to someone in Yeats’ universe, a writer or artist or playwright, who had put their all into their work for years and years only to never be recognized for that work while others– who this person at least equals in talent and effort– gain greater recognition. That seems like a logical interpretation.

Turns out there is a different story behind the poem.

It has to do with an Irish art dealer named Hugh Lane who was trying to establish a public art gallery that would bring modern art of that time to Dublin at the beginning decades of the 20th century. He proposed to give the city his collection of 39 modern masterworks from Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Daumier, Pissarro and Morisot so that they might establish a museum/gallery. The painting at the top from Renoir, The Umbrellas, was part of his collection.

To that time, Dublin had yet to display the new art of the age and its city fathers and religious leaders were not swayed by the offer. They viewed the new art as being decadent and with an air of libertinism to it. This turned into a heated public battle in which Yeats and others in the Irish artistic community fought to bring the new art culture to the country. They eventually lost and the collection ended up in the possession of the National Gallery of Great Britain after Lane died in the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats in 1915. He was returning from NY where he had sold two great pieces to what would become the Frick Collection. The Lusitania was only eleven miles from the Irish coast.

The battle for Hugh Lane’s collection has been fought continuously for the past century between the National Gallery and the Irish government. There are a lot more details so I am not going to get into the whole affair here. There is great article in the Guardian that goes into everything that transpired.

I just find it interesting how Yeats could turn a poem that dealt with the loss of a public debate about art and philanthropy into a poem that feels like it could be applied to many people who are in creative fields and may never realize the recognition their work may well deserve.

Or to a prosecutor dealing with shameless liars.

Here’s the whole poem:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

 

Now all the truth is out,

Be secret and take defeat

From any brazen throat,

For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

Bred to a harder thing

Than Triumph, turn away

And like a laughing string

Whereon mad fingers play

Amid a place of stone,

Be secret and exult,

Because of all things known

That is most difficult.

–William Butler Yeats, Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-1913

 

 

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“You say I am repeating 
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own 
And where you are is where you are not.”

― T.S. Eliot, East Coker

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This is a another painting from my upcoming solo show, Moments and Color, at the West End Gallery that opens Friday. It is called Meditatio and it is a painting I have shown here before. It was painted last year but as it sat here in the studio awaiting this show, I saw things in it that made me want  to change the painting a bit.

I lightened the center of it with a few small additions of new paint to the moon and Red Tree, giving it more light. That very much changed the attitude of the piece but it transformed even more when I changed the plain black band that had surrounded the central image to a bronzed burgundy. This new band color altered the experience of the painting, giving the whole thing a warmer glow.

I thought it was strong painting before, one with a meditative presence that definitely stood out in my mind. But these seemingly small changes transformed it greatly. It still feels meditative, as the title implies, but in a more welcoming way.

I see these words above from T.S. Eliot’s East Coker as part of a conversation between the Red Tree and the rising sun/moon, who points out that it repeats its lesson with each new rise. And though it is repetitive, it is no less meaningful and instructive.

I will let you read into it what you will but I particularly love the last line here– And where you are is where you are not.

That could very well sum up my work.

Hope you get a chance to see this piece at the West End Gallery. The opening is Friday, from 5-7:30 PM.

 

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