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An Excerpt

from “REVERIE” (134—35)  

Painter on his way to work_van gogh
Self-Portrait on the Road to Tarascan by Vincent van Gogh 1888

The artist draws his breath, fills his lungs, and releases pent-up tension as the refreshing breeze rakes his stubbly beard and flushes his furrowed brow. With a piercing gaze he glances across the river and along its bank, long enough to obtain his perspective. He lifts his brush and dips its tip into bright yellow pigment.

The storm soon passes without spilling its rain, and the minutes turn into hours as the day wears long and wanes. His stomach growls from emptiness, and the pilgrim asks of himself: What shall come of tomorrow’s foraging of nature? Will yet another mammoth bolder—the ruins, say, of a church, one of the earth’s many dry bones teetering on the pinnacle of the big rock—provide sustenance for this artisan who in his own earthy way still searches for God? Or, will the artist’s eye converge upon that wee poking blade of grass, the tiniest, most glorious of all slender creatures, so delicate yet so common in the ordinary as to be hardly noticed—and dare to believe even when bent in the wind as penitently as the monk is desolate in prayer that this blade of grass is capable of feeding a poor person’s soul?

“What life I think best, oh, without the least shadow of a doubt it is a life consisting of long years of intercourse with nature in the country—and Something on High—inconceivable, ‘awfully unnamable’—for it is impossible to find a name for that which is higher than nature” (CL 339a).

Even so—night is fast approaching and the sun is setting. And “Dame Nature” remains headstrong and recalcitrant, like the beetle on the rose petal or the the mistral on the heath. The cry of a single, solitary reed of grass would make itself audible if it could, alongside the palpable sobbing of a lovely woman saturated in dark blue lament. Both are aching to be heard above the clapping storm of life rumbling into the distance. And the artist who for the moment stands still before his easel is the only person, short of God knows who in heaven itself, to be witnessing these weepings.

Should he, therefore, construe “Dame Nature” in all her moods to possess far more brave beauty in the face of adversity than all her fears and miseries combined could possibly steal from her? And how would he do that? How would he speak to those who someday may stumble upon his dry-rotted pigment—watching, as if there were something higher than nature to see—without his having to scribble its name in the corner of the canvas, which would say about as much of God as the scribble itself? When words have failed, how does an artist give, not a voice, but a face to the unnamable?

Copyright © 2011  Charles Davidson, All Rights Reserved