The light at the end of the tunnel

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Willows weeping for Dartford

By the banks of the river Darenth that skirts through a far corner of Dartford municipal park, Jonah sat on a bench and gazed at the weeping willows. There was sadness in his heart. Things had gone pear-shaped with Anna-Belle and she was no longer talking to him, said she never wanted to see him again in her life. Never, jamais, ever, she’d shouted. And he’d had such high hopes for a future with her ever since the day he’d chanced upon her, after an absence of thirty years or more, sitting in the King’s Head in Bexley Village reading War and Peace. But no. Nothing had gone according to plan. Would it ever?

It was a beautiful early autumn afternoon, and the park was virtually empty except for clusters here and there of school children who had bunked off for the day. Young boys and girls chatting and smoking and struggling to act cool under the fierce impact of their impetuous adolescent hormones.

And in Jonah’s head, that tune that had been haunting him ever since he’d woken earlier that morning. You can’t always get what you want, no you can’t always get what you want, you can’t always get what you want, but you just might get what you need. The voice of Mick Jagger, the voice of Jonah’s adolescence. He’d grown up with the Stones’ music, every party he’d ever gone to, back in the days, the same old songs blasting out of the stereo, you can’t always get what you want. No satisfaction!

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Let’s play Blow-Up. Can you spot the heron? Click on photo to enlarge.

Raising his head, Jonah looked across the river and spotted through a narrow clearing in the forest, perched on a tall palisade, a large heron. At first he thought it was a statue, the bird was so still. But then it moved its beak. What, he wondered, was going through the heron’s mind? Pointless speculation. The heron knew nothing of Anna-Belle, knew nothing of his troubles, lived in a parallel universe in which instinct ruled the day, not love. Herons always got what they wanted, he mused.

On his way into the park, Jonah had stopped off at the Library to enquire about the location of the no-expenses-spared monument to Mick Jagger. He’d often heard of the existence of this tribute to a local hero, but had never managed to locate it. He spoke to Chris, a volunteer librarian and was told that the Brancusi-inspired art work dedicated to Jagger was at the far end of the park, where it tapered off into woodland, close to the Brooklands lake. Why had it been sited in such a remote spot, Jonah asked. That would be because the council wanted to discourage Japanese tourists from trampling all over the flower beds, Chris explained. Some things are logical and some things are not, Jonah thought to himself.

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Monument to Mick Jagger

Nevertheless, the sun was out and the air in his lungs was fresh and wholesome, so he picked himself up and sticking close to the mighty river, he trudged off in the direction he had been told to follow. And sure enough, after a good thirty minutes trek, with sweat breaking out across his brow, there it was, Mick Jagger in all his glory, beautifully captured, microphone in hand, in an exhilarating dance pose, craftily wrought in wrought iron. The thick crust of rust on the iron merely conspired to enhance the natural quality of the sculpture which would not have been out of place on the sea front in Cannes, where the Stones had spent some of their time in tax exile in years gone by and best forgotten now. There it was finally! And next to it a monument to Vox amplifiers, a product manufactured in Dartford in the fifties and which had helped fuel the rock and roll revolution, delivering decibels to the millions. Thoughtfully, a narrow bench had been provided for those whose knees felt a little weak at the sight of this magnificent, astonishingly lifelike representation of their idol. Jonah stood in contemplative silence. He thought of Anna-Belle for a moment and muttered a silent prayer. You can’t always get what you want.

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Darenth flora

Despondently, he resumed his long march by the riverside until he came to a long long tunnel. He paused at the mouth of this cavernous construction. Suddenly there was music, sweet music, the celestial sound of Handel’s Water Music, emanating from this vast, brick-lined vault. He could not believe his ears; music, the food of love! And in the background the gushing sound of rushing water merrily tipping over the weir. And as he advanced into the dark tunnel, right there before his eyes, at the very end, as though an epiphany, a message from the gods, at the far end, a brilliant patch of light appeared: at last there was hope and there was light. Something inside Jonah trembled and for a moment his vision blurred and his head began to spin. Was he about to swoon? Was this his footpath to Damascus? It was as though his whole life had been building up to this moment of revelation. All the bitterness, all the hurt he had suffered at the heartless hands of Anna-Belle, just slipped away, dropped from his shoulders like a hairshirt he was no longer obliged to wear. His soul was naked and pure and bright. Here before him, life was renewed. He was free, free at last. Free of Anna-Belle, free from the past, free from the endless pillow-pounding sleepless nights, free from the grey drudgery of loveless days. Nothing would ever be the same. He had found it. Eldorado. Nirvana. The grail. Now nothing but the untrammelled future lay before him. Fresh pastures green. New love. He had found it. Just what he needed. Sweet, soft music to his ears. The light. The light at the end of the tunnel.

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Dartford’s musical tunnel of light

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Meredith Frampton – Marguerite Kelsey (1928)

Meredith Frampton 1894-1984 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03415
Marguerite Kelsey (1928), oil on canvas

Marguerite Kelsey, a professional artist’s model in the 1920s and 1930s, was renowned for her gracefulness and ability to hold poses for a long time. Her dress was made by the artist’s mother, and the shoes were chosen and purchased by Frampton for this portrait.

The simple, short-sleeved pale tunic dress worn with low-heeled shoes and her straight hair were all essential elements of the fashionable garçonne style created by the couturiers Coco Chanel and Jean Patou from the mid-1920s.

The subject’s pose is deliberately artificial, as is the rendering of the magnolias in the basket and indeed that of all the furnishings. Light was, as for most artists, absolutely crucial to Frampton, and according to Marguerite Kelsey several sittings for this portrait were abandoned when the light was poor.

In reality, what Frampton captures here is a moment of transition between classical elements and modernism and the overall effect, enhanced by the beautifully smooth brushwork, is vaguely surreal.

The model with her quizzical expression, appears almost to be floating on the sofa like a version of Botticelli’s Venus, the sofa substituting for the seashell. The balance provided by the colours of the drapes and the tablecloth make this an utterly satisfying composition.

Worth a trip to Tate Modern just to see this stunning work of art!


Meredith Frampton (1994-1984) was born in St John’s Wood and was the only child of the sculptor George Frampton and his wife, the painter Christabel Cockerell. Educated at Westminster School, Frampton eventually studied art at the Royal Academy Schools. During the First World War, he served in the British Army on the Western Front with a field survey unit and also worked on the interpretation of aerial photographs. After the war he established himself as one of the most highly regarded British painters during the period.


Rosalía de Castro

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Rosalía de Castro

Two poems for this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, written by the renowned Galician poet, Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885). Rosalía was born in Santiago de Compostela, in the Spanish province of Galicia and wrote both in Spanish and Galician. At the time the Galician language was considered to be inferior, a language to be used by the peasantry and not in polite, sophisticated society. However, the highly educated Rosalía de Castro, an advocate of women’s rights, was also a key figure in the Galician romantic movement, known today as the Rexurdimento, or renaissance.

The poetry is inevitably marked by the romantic mood of the day in which expressions of saudade (nostalgia) and melancholy were dominant. Nevertheless, it is for her great poetic gift in the Galician language that she is most remembered today and for that reason I have included the Galician text of the second poem translated below. Galician is a language in its own right, though closer to Portuguese than to Spanish, and the Galician people are as proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage as the Catalans of Catalonia are of theirs. Such is the enduring fame of Rosalía de Castro that a monument to her was erected in the Paseo de los poetas in a park in Buenos Aires in 1981.


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Bust of Rosalía de Castro in the Parque 3 de febrero, Buenos Aires

I don’t know what I’m forever seeking

I don’t know what I’m forever seeking
On earth, in the air, or the heavens above;
I don’t know what I’m seeking;
But it’s something 
I’ve lost,
I don’t know when,
 and cannot find,
Although in dreams invisibly

It dwells within all I touch and see.
Happiness, I can never recapture you

On earth, in the air, or the heavens above

Although I know you are real
And no mere futile dream!

*

Cold Winter Months

Cold winter months 

That I love with all my heart;
Months of brim-full rivers

And the sweet love of the hearth
Months of storms,
Image of the pain
That afflicts young hearts
Cuts short the lives in bloom.
Comes after the autumn
That makes the leaves fall
Among them let me sleep
The sleep of not being.
And when the beautiful
April sun smiles once again
Let it shine upon my rest
No more upon my pain.

Meses do inverno fríos

Meses do inverno fríos,
Que eu amo a todo amar;

Meses dos fartos ríos

I o dóce amor do lar.

Meses das tempestades,

Imaxen da delor

Que afrixe as mocedades

I as vidas corta en frol.

Chegade e, tras do outono

Que as follas fai caer,

Nelas deixá que o sono

Eu durma do non ser.

E cando o sol fermoso

De abril torne a sorrir,

Que alume o meu reposo,

Xa non o meu sofrir.

Translations by John Lyons

Putting the boot in


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Blogsworth’s boot

Shanks’s pony. That’s the appropriate name for the means of transport favoured by our intrepid blogsworth as he travels ceaselessly across the great metropolis of London Town and beyond, to bring exclusive reports and features to our valued readership. But does he secretly have a convertible Audi TT hidden away in the garage to be used on rainy days or to swank it up and down the King’s Road on sunny Sunday afternoons with the roof off, you may ask? He does not! Ecological to the core, our man insists, come rain or high water, on putting the footwork in wherever he goes. No stranger to the demands of fashion and colour coordination, the observant reader will note from the accompanying photo that the boots are always selected to combine with whatever means of transportation they are partnering with on any particular occasion. In the case illustrated, the boot was chosen in order to match the luscious celestial blue upholstery of Southeastern Railways’ carriages. The assignment, on this occasion? A trip to the mediaeval town of Dartford to check out the checkout operation at the relatively new branch of Aldi. Working undercover he purchased three rib-eye steaks and a bag of mixed, prewashed salad leaves and some mashed potato, all destined for an afternoon barbecue at the brother’s house. But the opportunity was used to interrogate Sharon on the second till from the left as you enter the store.

       “So, Sharon,” he asked, as his purchases whizzed past the barcode reader, “are you the fastest girl in the store, I mean fastest checkout operative, I should say, forgive me.”

       And he blushed.

       Sharon, turns out, is British, (twenty-seven years and nine months old, born in Wilmington, will be twenty-eight on the third of December), and she thus gives the lie to the rumour that all the discounter’s employees are sourced in Eastern Europe. Around 5’ 2”, blonde hair, worn short, nails with fashionably clear varnish but for the tips which are white; and as she answered you could hear that she was a proud custodian and practitioner of the Queen’s English, with just a hint of the delightful Dartford Loop twang.

       “No,” she said. “That would be Stanislaus. He’s loads faster than me.”

       “But how do you know?”

       “The tills record our times, see, and calculate how many customers and how many items we process per hour. So they always know who is the fastest and who is dragging their fingers.”

       “And is there a reward for the fastest?”

       Sharon pauses and looks at him, conscious that he’s wrecking her chances, but unable to avoid a grimace of sheer disbelief. She has deep brown eyes, suggesting that the blonde hair may not be natural, and beautiful lashes. No wedding ring but wrong time to ask her for a date, he judges

       “No. No rewards. No prizes. But we do get a right telling off [she used a more colloquial expression here] if we’re too slow.”

       Niceties over, he paid quickly, marshalled his goods and left the store in a flash.

*

But back to the oil fat acid petrol and alkali resistant soles on the stylish DM boots. The famous Dr Martens air soles, to be precise. Rumour has it that a customized version of the same celestial blue boot (size 13) was provided by the company to Pope John Paul II, a celebrated advocate of the footwear. It seems that not content with splashing himself every day with Lourdes holy water as soon as he stepped out of his Vatican bath, the pontiff requested that some of his own supply of bottled Lourdes holy air be surgically inserted into the cushioned soles of his boots, and the manufacturer was only too willing to oblige this distinguished Eastern European customer. Whether there is any truth in this rumour, we’ll never know since the purveyors of boots to the papal feet were sworn on the Holy Bible to secrecy. So a leak? Cobblers, you might say, raising your eyebrows. Not to be trusted with the affairs of state.


Carpet – Lubaina Himid


The African artist, Lubaina Himid was born in 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Her art focuses on themes of cultural history and reclaiming identities and she was one of the first artists involved in the Black Art movement in the 1980s.

Himid Carpet
Lubaina Himid, Carpet, (1992, acrylic on canvas)

Her own description of her 1992 painting, Carpet, draws out the composition’s allusion to patchwork and cloth, and the idea that cloth can bear the traces of the activities for which it is used:

Patterns, colours, cloth flapping, beating in the wind. Robes wrapped against the sun and the cold of the night. Fabric highly coloured, woven, sewn together. Umbrellas tents canopies flags banners. The patterns on the cloths hold the clues to events.

To me these words give it away. I have never been to African, but the African presence in many countries in Central and South America is unmistakable. Travelling on buses through those regions, one of the most common and striking sights was to see brightly coloured washing hung on lines or fences or even bushes to dry. What to the European eye would seem to be rather brash colours, in African cultures is simply a statement of the vitality and beauty of life. Africa is, after all, the bedrock of European culture and its influence on painting and music is too obvious and too fundamental to be ignored.

Think of Carpet as a statement of life and appreciate how the blocks are not symmetrical nor posed symmetrically on the canvas upon which the letters appear to dance, and you get the idea of a buzzing dance floor capturing thus the vibrant energy of African culture. Another way to look at it would be to see the canvas as shorthand representation of our DNA code. Homo sapiens, emerged from Africa, as we all know, and these are the genes represented on the canvas, the genes too of all the wonderful creativity that has spread throughout the world.

Don’t believe me? Well get down to Tate Britain and see for yourself.

For Saturday

Ever since I began to write poetry, back in my teens, Saturday has always been a very special day: a day of reflection on the events of the week that went before and a taking stock of my life in general. It is my favourite day of the week for that reason. I have also found that whatever situation I am going through at any particular time, whether challenging or not, the writing of poetry never fails to raise my mood. My habits have become ingrained. I wake at six each morning and write before I do anything else, except perhaps make a coffee. Those first few moments before the bustle of the day begins are very precious, and I prefer not to dissipate them.

Just to add a note on the blog: the readership is slowly building, and it is now being read in Canada and the USA, in India and Israel, in Puerto Rico and Brazil, in Argentina and Japan and throughout Europe. If you read something which you appreciate, please share it with your contacts. Happy Saturdays!


For Saturday

Morning Sunlight shines into Forest, slightly misty Atmosphere

Wake at first light
       to the sound of trains
in the distance
       to the thrum of jets overhead
and to birdsong muted
       by the rippling breeze :
the slow tyranny of moonlight
       has faded
into this grey dawn
       in which all my dreams
have run aground
        Shall I look back on these times
with kindly eyes ?
       Others have destinations
but these streets
       these urban woodlands
have become my exile
       Others’ lives have movement
mine has been to ascend
       the barren calvaries of love
burdened by the solitary rose
       that would not yield its petals :
the soul has moments of escape
       the body never—
this body bound
       to the dust of its dust
Wisdom tells us
       that there are two heavens :
one for the body
       one for the soul
I have attained neither
       to date
though I have listened
       with all my heart
to the breath of butterflies
       and once held
the intricacies of love
       within my grasp

John Lyons


Blow-Up

blow_upBlow-Up (1966), was directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, and featured David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and Peter Bowles. There are also appearances by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and by Janet Street Porter, and others.

The film is very loosely based on a short story by the Argentinian writer, Julio Cortázar (who makes an uncredited appearance as a homeless person) . His original story, Las babas del diablo [The devil’s drool], describes an incident witnessed on a bridge: a young boy appears to be running towards his mother who has her arms outstretched to greet him. When the observer in the story steps back, however, he notices a man waiting by a car with an open door, and it becomes obvious to him that the scene is one of attempted kidnapping of the boy.

Perception. What we see and what we want to see, in film and in art and in life. Illusion and self-delusion. And from our point of observation, from where we are standing, what information do we have, and is it the correct information, and is it sufficient to make a judgment of the situation we are observing, or the emotions we are experiencing? In film, in art, and in life: how do we arrive at our judgments, how do we assess the honesty of other people’s feelings, their words, their actions when so much is façade and pretence and evasion and deception? Is it all pointless carnival, as the frolicking students (who appear at the beginning and end of the film) would suggest in their seemingly inane mimes? A going through the motions?

The basic narrative goes like this: David Hemmings is taking photos in a park in Charlton when he spots a couple kissing. He takes photos of them. When the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) notices him, she runs after him and demands he hand over the camera. Hemmings refuses but says she can have the photos when he has developed them. Once he does develop them, however, he notices that a fourth person was present at the moment he snapped the couple kissing. By blowing up the exposures, he discovers that there was a man in the bushes with a gun pointed at the presumably illicit lovers. He returns to the scene and discovers the dead body of Redgrave’s lover. Inadvertently Hemmings has captured a murder on camera.

Camera obscura … Michelangelo Antonioni during the filming of L'Avventura (1960).
Michelangelo Antonioni

Perception. What we see and what we want to see, both objectively out in the world, and internally in our emotional lives. Although set in the swinging sixties, a time which on the surface purported to be full of novelty and fun and new-found freedoms, nobody in the film is happy and there are no deep human connections: there is wealth and poverty and demonstrations on the streets of London. The people with money and access to drugs and an incessant party life seem no happier than the men emerging from the doss house at the start of the film. Everything is veneer, false appearances, of little value.

Values. The film presents a critical meditation on the bankrupt spiritual and emotional values of contemporary society and the individual. What is at stake is honesty, that fundamental virtue which according to the 18th century French writer, Voltaire, is the cornerstone of human society. Dishonesty destroys relationships on a personal level and can destroy the very fabric of society.

Insofar as any film can be important, Blow-Up is important, a cinematographic masterpiece. But you have to look beneath the veneer to appreciate it!


A woman called Carmela, by Irma Prego,

irmaI can’t remember exactly how I met Irma Prego. I was living in Costa Rica in the early 1990s and teaching a course in Latin American literature in the National University there. Often I would go to the literary evenings organised at El Farolito, the international cultural arm of the Spanish government, and on one occasion Irma must have been there. We became friends immediately. Born in Nicaragua in 1933, Irma had at one time been engaged to the poet, Carlos Martínez Rivas, but her parents had eventually forced her to break off the relationship on the grounds that Carlos was too poor. Well he was poor except for his incredible gifts as a poet.

In 1956 Irma moved to Costa Rica and married a prominent journalist. It was an unhappy marriage and they eventually divorced. Although her ex-husband was still alive, at the time, whenever I saw Irma, she would refer to him as ‘el finado’, the deceased one. She was not very tall, about 5’ 2”, and slightly built, but at the age of sixty kept her hair long, though usually worn up. In her youth she had been incredibly beautiful, incredibly unconventional and the darling of all the young male poets of her day, and she still retained her good looks. She had sharp eyes and a sharp wit and conversing with her was a delight. She wrote her short stories with the same voice with which she spoke, full of irony and good humour, but deadly when it came to references to her ex. And in one way or another, all her fiction centred around him and the details of their unhappy union.

To me Irma was a treasure, and she read and commented on all my poetry and all the stories I was writing at the time. She was also very hospitable and had trained as a cordon bleu chef, and we enjoyed many meals together in our respective homes. A proud and gentle and very generous soul, she was much loved by everyone. The story below is taken from a collection entitled Mensajes al más allá, [Messages for the beyond] published in 1996. The irony is that the stories were intended reading for her ex-husband, el finado, in his premature afterlife.


A woman named Carmela, by Irma Prego

It was not for no reason that they called Carmela the Renegade. That silence, that oblique look, that sharp observation, that sudden leap into the most radical of rebellions.

Carmela married a workaholic, who hated Sundays, hated to relax, hated the silence or simple concentration. A hyperactive, psychotic obsessive, he murdered the atmosphere with all kinds of idiotic interventions: trivial and bad-tempered arguments, muttering, complaints, a real pain in the arse the whole time.

One day, because anything can happen in a day in life, one Friday as it happens, Carmela decided to put a bit of beauty into her Sunday, because Sundays should be lived in style, when time slows to a crawl out of the sheer pleasure of doing nothing, or at least the doing the minimum.

With her meagre housekeeping budget, she discovered in the market some splendid, round and compact tomatoes, some freshly picked peas, some tiny potatoes, some clean white Santa Ana onions, some red and green bell peppers, and some of those prawns that are “al dente” in eight minutes.

She prepared the mayonnaise with all fresh ingredients for the French dressing and as she did so her husband’s smiling face flashed through her mind.

Come Sunday Carmela got up early. She whistled in the kitchen, she sang while she bathed and dried the children, recited poetry as she picked things up off the floor, tidied, dusted and swept. She entered the bathroom singing opera at the top of her voice.

She placed the iceberg lettuce on the white wooden cutting board along with the other beautiful components of the salad. Still life, not at all! Wonderful life!

He became impatient because he couldn’t stand the spontaneous joy of those who got up in a good mood in the morning. So he just buried his head in his newspaper: an utterly compulsive reader, reading was for him just a means of escape, had nothing to do with improving the mind.

Carmela tacked the recipe to the wall (a recipe can also make a home) and began her great manoeuvres. She cut the top off the tomatoes, and how beautiful the rose window of Notre Dame turned out, the magnificent structure of a gothic rose window, and each tomato a different one.

At twelve-fifteen her preparations were ready, tomatoes stuffed with prawns, peas, diced potatoes and French dressing. She proudly plonked them on top of the crisp bed of lettuce and triumphantly decorated the crests with aromatic parsley. On top of the green tablecloth she had crocheted herself she laid out the yellow plates and the crystal glasses. Overjoyed she called out: “Lunch is served!”

He folded his newspaper grumpily. He sat at the table with a frown on his face.
With a vaguely threatening gesture he shook the serviette in the air and confronted the tomato as though it was an enemy!

Carmela could see the stinging indictment she was about to receive. With the stern look of a Juvenile judge he asked peremptorily: “What the hell is this, my girl?” Finding the strength to overcome her weakness and fatigue, Carmela responded boldly:

      “A stuffed tomato!” She felt almost ashamed with her wounded pride.

      “A stuffed tomato!” he exploded. “You know I love my tomatoes sliced,” he said bitterly, “but my tastes count for nothing in this house.”

However, deeply dejected and amid constant grumbles, he devoured four tomatoes with marinated chips, and downed two or three glasses of wine.

The silence at the table could have been cut with a knife, and the lunch intended to brighten up the Sunday had been a heartbreaking disaster.

From that day on she loathed markets, tomatoes and Sundays.

By the time of the siesta Carmela had begun to insult, to scold, to rebuke herself with real fury. Of course it was a disaster, she could get nothing right, life was too much for her, everything uphill all the way, and as for her, she was a silly fool, a hopeless case, a loser, a nobody. An internal speech delivered so angrily, so feverishly, with such intensity that she was convinced that she wasn’t worth a cent, that she was little more than a useless piece of trash. Not surprising that nothing went right for her and she’d never merited a single sincere compliment, nor the slightest recognition, nor even the slightest thanks.

It was then that she began to slink around in the corners as unnoticed as possible, as though she was invisible. She blended into the broom, the iron, the oven, the pressure cooker, the vacuum cleaner. They forgot about her at home, maybe they’d even forgotten before her pathetic attempt to disappear. Occasionally they wondered where she was, but they never saw her; on one occasion they wanted to mention something to her but couldn’t find her; and once they wanted to know when her birthday was but it wasn’t important enough for them to try to find her.

When they lost something, some faceless hand brought it to them, a bodiless cloth rinsed out the bathtub, a soulless creature prepared the meals, the beds were made by the hand and grace of inertia, and the house was cleaned by the electric appliances.

Carmela, an invisible faceless, silent, absent woman, who lived in a house on loan to her from her children who were just passing through, from a husband who was elsewhere, was a slave to them all every day. Carmela, this woman named Carmela, walked out one day for good and left a trail of threads and buttons and needles and dishes and linen and bedding and patches and resentment and empty hours and corners and recipes and shopping lists and thrift and silences upon that huge puddle of tears that she’d never cried.

Translation by John Lyons

Brown Eyes – George Clausen

Brown Eyes 1891 Sir George Clausen 1852-1944 Presented by C.N. Luxmoore 1929 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04484
George Clausen, Brown Eyes (1891) oil on canvas

One of the artists to catch my attention during my recent visit to Tate Britain was George Clausen (1852-1944), an English painter, who was born in London, and was the son of a decorative artist. He studied design in South Kensington from 1867 to 1873 and later went on to Paris to study under two rather traditional artists, William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. Despite their conservative approach, Clausen would have learnt from them the importance of technical skills. However, while in Paris it was perhaps inevitable at the time that he would also come under the influence of the impressionists who completely rejected the academic style propounded by Clausen’s teachers.

George Clausen’s paintings concentrated on peasant figures and landscapes, though, as with the French impressionists, his real concern came to be the rendering of light in open air settings or in the shady shelter of a barn or stable. His portrait of a young peasant girl, entitled Brown Eyes, painted in oils on canvas in 1891, is an absolute delight. On the one hand it presents a perfect classical triangular composition, in which the girl’s white blouse dominates: however, the girl’s intense expression adds real depth and energy, and one wonders what has caught her attention as she looks out from the canvas over the shoulder of the observer. The field in the background provides a beautiful natural contrast, delicately captured with fine brushstrokes. So don’t delay, get down to Tate Britain and see for yourself the magic of this portrait, which is just one of the many treasures held in the permanent collection.


One final observation, although it is always well-attended, possibly because of its location in Pimlico, Tate Britain is not swamped by crowds in the way that other galleries can be. So if you’re looking for a leisurely, unstressed Sunday afternoon but want to appreciate some true artistic masterpieces, I can highly recommend the venue.


Wild blackberries

blackberries_wildThis week I have been revising a book of poetry that has been 18 months in the writing. Sections of the poem have been read by a very good friend of mine, Paul Taylor. I asked him as he was reading to mark the text wherever he found the lines confusing or simply dull. I am now working my way through the pages, sometimes rewriting passages he has marked as uninteresting or simply cutting them out if they no longer seem relevant to me.

It is always useful to have an editor, someone who can be trusted and whose judgment is based on wide reading and long years of experience. On this page I would like to express my gratitude to Paul for the task he undertook with great enthusiasm and completed with great professionalism. The lines  below, written over a year ago, nevertheless echo a poem submitted to the blog mid-August by Molly Rosenberg. According to Paul Taylor, my short poem is actually a metaphor for love. Who knows?


Wild blackberries

Wild blackberry canes
                   barbed brambles
heavy with fruit
                   thrive on the steep banks
of the railway cutting
                   goodness that grows
innocently
                   out of the soil :
but easy access to them is barred
                   by dense patches of nettles
so the berries gather dust
                   ripen and then fall back
into the undergrowth
                   to be eaten by birds
and by the large colonies of fox families
                   that have pitched their tents
at various stations
                   along the line

John Lyons