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Vincent's Journey Vincent's Journey
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2013-03-09 10:47:08
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Meister Heidegger taught me how to know
Our mutual friend, Vincent Van Gogh —
About his mundane objects and the humble things
Whose binding and releasing powers
"Shimmer with the silent call of Earth."
His drawings of peasants' shoes give entry to their world of care.
The shoes themselves, roughhewn and worn, reliably are there.
They enunciate to us the truth in beauty.
Peaceful and restful are the useful shoes,
Opening a world from its radiant origin,
Lit up from within by a transcendence
That loves to hide from those who need it most.

Vincent's journey was never straight.
A pure and simple soul, devout,
He bounded harshly from peril to peril.
A preacher with a self-imposed ministry,
The Lord was not a lamp unto his feet,
But guided him into the coal mines,
Where he sought communion with the children of God.
He asked for nothing and received nothing.
No one listened, no one noticed his self-sacrifice,
No one returned his love for man.


Vincent felt that life is round.
He said so, in a letter.
He sought nothing above "sincere human feeling,"
But no one trucked with him except whores.
The Provincial locals found him to be what he was, and hated him.

In heat they accused: "Who is this queer weird one
Come from far away, sitting here in the street in the dead of night,
ith all those candles stuck on the brim of his hat, painting?"
Naturellement, who else but that duck that lives with that whore,
And lives on nothing but tabac and vin and won't work!
We hate him … an ugly wastrel … a fauve … such repulsive pictures."
When he passed under their windows they rained down on him
Curses and shoes, expressing their sincere human feelings.

Loneliness grew up around Vincent like a Normand high hedge row.
He lived in a swamp of work — sweaty, prodigal, not of this world.
Pictures came from him in fusillades, his consuming cat's-eye
Catching everything that crossed his line of sight.
He was mortaler than most, every day exploding new barriers,
Every day driving through his manic weariness, voracious, veracious.
But all the pretty things of the south of France
Could not provide a figleaf for the blight of being an El Greco without a God.

He could not sell a painting, he could not befriend a friend.
Seductiveness and success have their dangers: Vincent would never know them.
He grew more and more pettish, more and more brutish,
More and more lone.
All he knew was, he worked away, turning and turning, screwing into dead wood.
No one listened, except one.
"Well then," he writes in a refined epistle, "what shall I say?
Do our inner thoughts ever show outwardly?
There may be a great fire in our soul,
Yet no one ever comes to warm himself there,
And passers-by can only see, coming out
Through the chimney, a wisp of smoke."


When lightning strikes chance is king.
It was Christmas Eve when despair strangled his guileless heart.
Huffy Gauguin had gone, and Vincent stood in the road
Looking at his receding back … and then … so the ear had to come off.

Alone now like that unlucky figtree
Obscurely blasted by the wrath of Christ,
Condemned, blackened, twisted, bizarre,
His journey now took another revolve,

Wobbling like a worn coin on edge, rolling on a rough table.
Now life became sharp, not round, a series of troubled dreamings.

A voice from out of the whirlwind knifed into his searching eye.
Desperation, undiluted, filigreed his veins.
Now his taloned fingers gnarled every line.
Common things become documents of shipwreck:
A clear starry night seethes in shrieking sinuosities;
Sunflowers screech out in craziness;
Straight-line cypresses are made up of blue fires from hell;
His self-portraits depict his bullseye eyes, open and fear-filled.


Here are crows over a wheatfield, somewhere in the Ile de France.
This is a field like no other, with a sky like no other.
In this painting Vincent speaks his inner Being,
And intimates the story of the century to come.
This painting is a wavering world with depths disappearing.
The sky, a mess of claustrophobic scallops, with packed omegas
Of blue clouds signalling storm, moves toward us.

The coming of a true storm stirs the pulse.
Clouds grow high and brood over the summer's field.
A dark sky over bright land: flashes and threats
From the storm line silver the world:
Nothing now is ugly, nothing unreal.
And, after the release of flood, calm blankets the countryside
And enters the human heart and all the things around.
Animals return from shelter and go about their ways.
True storms pass.  But this storm shall never pass.
Here there is moil and nervousness, and deadly stillness,
And breathless darkness, a noon of total eclipse.

There is no joy in penetrating to this doom,
Or kenning the inner strength and greatness of this smothering dusk,
This darkness without source, without end.

Dancing on the lip of the sighing volcano,
The ugly juggler perfervidly throws up one pin, two pins, three,
And dances about jerkily, defiantly.
Then, coughing and snorting in the smoke, he sends up three more.
His dance goes faster, the smoke grows darker, denser.

Then more pins, more smoke, more coughing, more light —
Through this preternatural night and fog
How many can he keep up in the air at one time?
If one drop of blood strikes the soil the volcano will explode.
Our breath is held in fainting stillness.
This magician of the Earth has become a Fate.

Vincent's last letter to Theo was never sent.
"There was so much that I wanted to tell you," he begins,
"But then the mood passed, and anyhow I feel it would be useless."
What parable or peptalk could reach him now?
Humiliated, irrelevant to the world,
He took a Decision with a capital "d".
Fearing God's nasty cachinnations, he rushed into
His Being towards Death, ran behind a dunghill
And shot himself nowhere in particular, making his own way back into the Ground.
In that letter his last words were: "Well, my own work,
I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered on account of it —
But that's all right…"
Enfianced to disaster, he sought death as a relief from the pain.
Unregenerable and mendicant, dirty and disagreeable, he refused to recover.
Hearkening to the call of self-liquidation, he waited and listened for the end.
Without lamentation he passed out of being, unexorcised.
He died just before noon, darkness rising in the West.

These silent jet black slashes, birds as headless as bats,
With a desperate need for impossible flight,
Hang above the lemony wheatstalks,
Transfixed in that blue and black sky
That is as nervous as madness, as heavy as steel.
And below, a skewed and tilted world.
This is no earth of human frame (ploughman, steer clear!).
The green reeling paths are rollingly dizzying, untamped.
No laboring tread could hold on such a road.
This landscape is a confession of such desperate loneliness
That even a god could not save Vincent now.
Here there can be no use.
Here there is no straight ray of the Sun,
No tilth, no smell of the earth, no animals or men,
No heights, no shallows, no sanctuary, no hope and no hope for hope.

Here there is a numbness that infects,
A silence so oppressive that it is not silent,
A crying Earth undergoing a hopeless Sky.

These distressful harbingers can never move.
They fly in breathless space.
Their beating wings can give no lift.
Their beating hearts — they must pulse with fright
As they behold the churning landscape below, the unnamable horizon.
Their hollow breasts — how they must tremble and squall
As they flow into total closure,
Homing straight for the center of silence.


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Alan2013-03-09 11:45:59

Emanuel Paparella2013-03-09 12:37:47
As I have mentioned recently in a comment under chapter IV of Ernesto Paolozzi’s book on Croce currently being presented in Ovi, sometimes one needs to read particular philosophers to delve into particular issues at hand and the language to be used is not that of science but that of poetry.

If one changes the particular painter and the particular philosopher in the above remarkably poignant poem, what would obtain is a completely different poem. As is, in looking at the particular voyage toward death of one particular desolate painter and how “not even a god” could save him, the poem manages to make the journey from the existentially particular to the existentially universal in humankind designated by Heidegger as “dasain,” on a penultimate journey toward death, just as Dante, on the other hand, in describing his own existential journey right from the beginning informs us that it begins “In the middle of the journey of our life” [nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita] and manages to transform it, as only a poet can, into the existential journey of humankind toward an ultimate transcendent journey toward the still point where a God will save and not fail.

Moreover the poem harks back to what Martin Heidegger had to say in his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art”: “…Art is history in the essential sense that it grounds history…The origin of the work of art—that is, the origin of both the creators and the preservers, which is to say of a people’s historical existence, is art. This is so because art is by nature an origin: a distinctive way in which truth comes into being, that is, becomes historical.” Croce and Vico via Paolozzi has been trying to express the very same thing in the language of Italian humanism. There are indeed many roads to truth but truth is one. Well done Larry.

Leah Sellers2013-03-10 22:55:59
Wonderful poem, Sir.
The Earth was probably crying and the Sky was seemingly Hopeless, because Van Gogh was Feeling and Perceiving his Reality that way during the moments he was painting that Natural Scene.
Also, due to effects of alcohol (and or drugs, or the toxicity of the paints/chemicals he mixed and used, or...) he probably really saw the Energetic and Visual World around him in the very way that he painted it.
His Perspective and Talent brought a whole new Understanding to the energetic potentialites of that yellow Field of Wheat and blue/black sky of flying Crows.

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