An extraordinary opportunity to travel to Center City Philadelphia this weekend made it possible to fulfill a longtime wish from my younger days to view in person some of the actual original works of Winslow Homer. As a much younger man, full of optimism and the creative spirit, I had thought to become an artist myself, and had taken many steps to achieve that aim throughout my educational journey. Art classes in grammar school, high school, and college only served to heighten my interest in the great works of art created out in the world, and one of my earliest experiences with admiration for other artists involved Mr. Homer, as his paintings were often used as illustrations for poetry books that I never seemed to be able to avoid reading.
The painting at the top of this page, entitled, “Diamond Shoal,” was created around 1905, and captured my imagination not simply as a work of art, but as an inspiration to imagine sailing in such a circumstance myself, as well as prompting what would become a lifelong interest in watercolor painting. Once it became an interest for me, I began attempting to create my own works, a few of which have illustrated my writings here. I never felt like my own skill approached any sort of level that might warrant attention from the art world, but the inspiration of the many works I encountered along the way never left me.
The image above, also by Winslow Homer, is a prime example of how such paintings not only appealed to me as a work of art, but also gave me an appreciation for the content of artwork that the masters unfailingly produced, which I rarely felt that I could embody in my own work. The painting is called, The Trysting Place,” from around 1875, and it depicts a young woman waiting at an appointed meeting place for what the artist described as “…a tardy lover.” You can almost feel the butterflies in her stomach in anticipation of his arrival, and perhaps even some anxiety that he might not show up at all. She is a lovely young woman, dressed in a deliberate choice by the artist as emblematic of the times, and she seems both vulnerable as she wonders what might be keeping her lover, and yet still also courageous to make the arrangement in the first place. Standing in front of these works, knowing that they are the original work of an artist I have long admired and who is world famous with good cause, was both uplifting and inspiring, even as a much older man today. There were hundreds of works by other artists as well and a few of them were especially notable for me as an enthusiastic patron of the exhibit.
This image was painted by one of the many women artists featured at the exhibit. “Bow Sprit,” from around 1916-1918, is a much more impressionistic rendering than some of the others which caught my eye, and I love how the impressions of the water and the sails and the circumstance are more than sufficient to give the viewer a sense of what the artist saw. I love the sparkling array of colors and the fluid movement suggested by her skilled hands. There were many renderings in the exhibit which had similar effects, but this one stood out for me.
At about the half-way point in the journey through these amazing images, there was a section of Winslow Homer works, paired with similar subjects and renderings by another master of watercolor, John Singer Sargent. Both artists were members of the American Watercolor Society in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but had remarkably different approaches to their work, and the contrast was both illuminating and interesting to contemplate. Homer seemed most often to be more concerned with precision and including important details in his renderings, and Sargent was much more focused on the impressionistic aspects of his final works, but both achieved a very similar result which delights and inspires.
Included in this array of creativity were two images by Georgia O’Keefe, someone whose work I have always admired, but for which I had never had the opportunity to view in person. The image above was one of the two, both renderings described as “Evening Star,” and this one is “number two.” The description reported the works as “experimental in nature,” both created as an exploration of the medium and of the subject. There was a palpable feeling of connection to the artist for me at that moment, and as with many of the other works displayed, a sense of awe and satisfaction that is very difficult to articulate.
The exhibit is only available in Philadelphia, and only for a few short weeks from March 1st through May 14th. The quality and nature of these paintings are so exquisitely unique, that they are very rarely exhibited due to the harm that results from exposure to light, even the subtle indoor light of the museum. Several of the works had curtains in front of them so as to minimize the amount of exposure the paintings would receive, even during such a short period of time. Going to such lengths to preserve these works is an enormously important factor for future generations, and I walked away from the museum that afternoon enlivened and inspired in a way that is also unfortunately not as frequent as I would like.
Our connection to the artists and the works they produced in the past is a vital link to the very heart of our humanity, and while each of us may not be masters of our chosen creative arts, we each possess the same vital elements within us that connects us to each other and to those who came before us. We are the masters of our own creative spirits, and uniquely qualified to continue to connect to our spiritual and creative sensibilities as only we can.
I can feel you. I know you are there. I want you to be there. I think that’s the reason it keeps happening. At some point, we both reflect on those moments, and it brings us somehow together. Your face said everything. Just for a moment, it all came rushing back to you–all those moments–they all passed through your mind’s eye. Your body posture changed immediately. You opened to me. I wanted to run right at you and hold you close, but the moment was gone and you–you were brought back to the temporal–you were brought back to the moment in time and space, but before you turned and remembered where you were temporally, I had you completely–I had you completely–and I wanted you completely. For just a few seconds, everything stopped, and that place that only we inhabit burst open. Your face softened. Your shoulders relaxed. It was relief–you were relieved–just for that moment. I played right along in the temporal. I allowed a suspension of my inclinations and yours. Twice during the conversation in time and space, we leaned into each other. Your face immediately softened. You were close enough to hear my heartbeat.
After a few seconds you snapped out of it and returned to the space and time of the temporal world, and once more, I extended my hand. You came immediately in and again your face softened and you smiled. It was like you were looking right through me. It would have been a completely different experience had it been under different circumstances. I imagined how it might have gone, had we been alone. I would have pulled you in, surrounded you with my arms. My heart was flung open only for a few seconds, but if the circumstances were different, I would have opened up all the way.
I wouldn’t let you go. I’m so much taller, I always seem to be looking down at you, but your face, when it looks up to me, makes it feel like we’re the same height. Height becomes irrelevant. I know I would have put my hands on your face, and I believe your face would be grinning broadly. I would hesitate for just a second or two, and I would say, “I love you,” and I would kiss you deeply–passionately. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. It wouldn’t have to be anymore. It would be alright. We’d be fine. I would look deeply in your eyes; I would sigh; I’d probably be giggling–a nervous laughter. I wouldn’t want you to be upset. I would want you to giggle too.
Even if it never happened again, I would know that moment and I would create a point of worship. I’d worship that moment–cling to it–always. So many times when you have been in my arms, and our faces have been very close, I have wanted to kiss you, but it was almost unnecessary because it seemed that your face registered my desire–you knew that I wanted to kiss you, and you smiled.
There must be a chance, even if its only once, to relive this imagining, to manifest it in the physical world, but even if it never happens it’s really already happened dozens of times, and each time you smiled, knowing. I don’t understand, but I accept–I accept you, just as you are. You see, the person to whom that face belongs–I love that person; the person who inhabits that body–I love that person; the soul that manifests as that person–I am one with that soul. We will never be apart–ever. We are forever one.
The air is bitter cold.
The distance between warmth and cold confusion is brief,
And only marginally tolerable;
The wind stings my cheeks
As I make my way to you.
I would face a thousand stings
To arrive at your door.
The door swings wide.
As I step through the doorway, I see you.
You are busy, but not too busy to turn
As I say, “Alright. I’m taking over.”
When you see me, you smile broadly;
You say nothing at first.
You look away, trying to gather your wits;
Or perhaps, you are gathering your thoughts.
“Here he is again–what should I say?”
“What will happen?” “How do I look?”
“What will he think?”
I stare briefly while returning a smile,
Then walk away to give you a moment to compose yourself.
I gather a few items off the shelf and pretend to shop.
My heart is racing; my mind is conjuring:
“What will I say?” “What will she think?”
I approach the counter unseen; I hesitate briefly;
This is not the right time, so I step away.
I divert my attention momentarily.
I distract myself with another conversation,
All the while thinking of what to say.
I call to you aloud. You respond by saying,
“Oh, I see how it is.” It’s time to play.
I recover quickly by making excuses.
I pedal backwards; the transaction goes on as planned.
My mind is racing right along with my heart.
I approach you. You turn and approach me.
The smile returns; the joy ascends.
Drifting, sailing, floating, dreaming–now.
Now, you are there. I hold you close.
I pull away just enough to see your face.
Luminous, brilliant, emotive–I bring your face closer.
I imagine falling headfirst into those eyes.
My mind swirls–I swoon for one fleeting, glorious moment.
As quickly as I conjure the feeling, it’s over. I run away.
I drive quickly down the road, excitement flowing through me.
Although I am soon miles away, I am still standing near you.
You are still there with me. Time and space are frozen in memory.
All I can do is slowly breathe in and slowly exhale.
Nothing moves. Nothing changes. I abide in the memory.
I can feel the moment, the spirit, and the light brightening.
Will I ever know if you felt it too?
© September 2016 by JJHII24
“Spring Landscape,” by Achille Laugé (French, 1861–1944). Laugé was a Neo-Impressionist painter born in Arzens. Laugé never followed his teachers’ methods and advice, and his work was considered radical for its time. Influenced by French Neo-Impressionist painters Georges Seurat (1859–1891), Paul Signac (1863–1935), and Camille Pissarro (1831–1903), Laugé adopted elements of their style without aligning himself with Seurat’s strict and scientific method.–Wikipedia
Speaking of Spring, I took the opportunity a few weeks ago to photograph the signs of Spring right in my own yard around the house, and as it turned out, it would be the last sunny day for a while. I was cautiously optimistic on this sunny afternoon and captured some of the essential sights that I see each year about this time.
Right after I captured these images, we began to endure one of the longest runs of continuously rainy days in recent memory these past two weeks, and it reminded me of a passage from Hemingway:
“Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life…You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.
In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.”
― Ernest Hemingway, passage from “A Moveable Feast.”
After the terrorist incident in Paris in November of last year, “A Moveable Feast” became a bestseller in France. According to a CNN report by Watson, Ivan, and Sandrine in November 2015 called “Sales Surge for Hemingway’s Paris memoir, “the book’s French-language title, “Paris est une fête,”…was a potent symbol of defiance and celebration. Bookstore sales of the volume surged, and copies of the book became a common fixture among the flowers and candles in makeshift memorials created by Parisians across the city to honor victims of the attacks.”
First page of a miniature of Cicero’s “De Oratore,” 15th century, Northern Italy, now at the British Museum
“Historia magistra vitae est,” is a Latin expression, taken from Cicero’s “De Oratore” which translates to “History is life’s teacher.” According to Wikipedia, “…The phrase conveys the idea that the study of the past should serve as a lesson to the future.” Cicero writes eloquently in “De Oratore,” about how “…An orator is very much like the poet. The poet is more encumbered by rhythm than the orator, but richer in word choice and similar in ornamentation.”
This relentless run of rain and overcast skies has had the beneficial affect of keeping me indoors to read and contemplate my thoughts in a way that I don’t usually get the opportunity to do when the weather is better, and the following quote from Cicero’s work struck me as I reviewed it the other day:
“Nevertheless, since philosophy is divided into three branches, which respectively deal with the mysteries of nature, with the subtleties of dialectic (inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions), and with human life and conduct, let us quit claim to the first two, by way of concession to our indolence (laziness), but unless we keep our hold on the third, which has ever been the orator’s province, we shall leave the orator no sphere wherein to attain greatness. For which reason this division of philosophy, concerned with human life and manners, must all of it be mastered by the orator; as for the other matters, even though he has not studied them, he will still be able, whenever the necessity arises, to beautify them by his eloquence, if only they are brought to his notice and described to him.”
It has occurred to me that my poetry, my sense of history, and my earnest deliberations in studying the philosophical aspects of our human subjective awareness have all been in the service of the mysteries of nature, the subtleties of dialectic, and with human life and conduct, and although I don’t feel particularly “encumbered by rhythm,” a recent poem erupted from me that seems to address these mysteries in the way that Cicero suggested is often produced as “necessity arises.”
Every nuance of the life within me
Yields to the power of the
Divinity within this sacred place
We are building together.
Across the eons of time,
Through centuries of human presence on Earth,
The world within has blossomed and flourished,
While the life of the body without
Struggles to continue.
Nature reveals itself only slowly
To the spirit, like a flower
That opens at twilight.
Abiding with you in the deepest
Union of souls of my short life,
The goddess breathes life into our
Sensual union and intensive mingling
Of spirit and intimate places.
Sitting at length within her grasp,
I submit willingly to the opening
Of my soul by her gentle hand.
My tortured heart cries out silently–
While the spirit mends.
© May 2016 by JJHIII24
If you would like to listen to me recite this poem, click the following link:
Musical background selection, “Snow and Light,” by Dustin O’Halloran on his album, “Lumiere.”
I Am With You Now
The light escapes from the window,
Across the room,
Lands on my face,
Gets under my eyelids,
And stirs me to wakefulness.
Slowly, the light becomes brighter;
My mind resists entry back into the room.
Very slowly, I open my eyes.
At first, there is only a fog–
A blur of light and shadow;
The trees outside my window are stirring in the wind,
Casting their tumultuous shadows across my face.
It takes several minutes for resistance to fail,
When once more, I am back in the world–
My consciousness returns to the world.
It feels like I’m floating.
I can hardly move.
The air is still, and yet,
The motes of dust rotate and swirl
In the beam of sunlight.
There is nothing but silence and presence.
It doesn’t take long,
My mind wanders, and when it wanders,
It wanders to you–
More precisely, to my memories of you.
And yet, my spirit somehow seems to hold
The presence of your spirit within it;
We are joined in the spirit.
I manage to slide up in the bed–
Prop myself up on my elbows;
And reverie sets in.
What joy there is in this reverie;
What intensity of spirit–
And abundant affection.
I fly to you, but there is no reply.
© March 2016 by JJHIII24
I bow and extend my hand.
You place your hand in mine.
We walk slowly to a clearing,
Never looking away.
I’m drifting, sailing, floating, dreaming.
Slow motion blends with my astonishment.
I pull away to see your face.
The moment is fleeting.
It probably doesn’t even last sixty seconds.
But in those precious seconds,
The world stands still; my heart rises;
It seems to last an hour.
I begin to move and yield, move and yield.
You don’t understand at first,
Then suddenly you see that I move,
Then yield to you, for you to move.
Not simply moving, not simply yielding.
All at once, we are moving together.
Your eyes send messages to mine.
The universe stops, turns, and waits–
A moment frozen in time that I will never forget.
Could I hold you close?
You say yes, and smile broadly.
I fear I may fall down.
A few awkward moments pass.
The blood rushes from my head.
The world disappears.
The movement is no longer conscious.
We swirl and flow.
All I see is you.
We ascend as our hearts meet and melt.
I cannot think; I cannot breathe.
It’s probably only fractions of a second,
But the entire history of the world,
Is summed up in those fractions of a second.
My mind slowly rolls back into the room.
At first there is only a fog–
A blur of light and shadow.
I turn, but I am in pain.
I must turn away. I must.
But I want to stay.
I barely escape with my life.
I must keep going.
Though I am miles away,
I’m still holding you close.
I must find you again and tell you.
Do not turn away.
Share with me–if you can.
© February 2016 by JJHIII24
Christmas at the Lake House
Tumbling memories spill out along the uncertain path before me;
The surrounding forest whispers its morning message,
As I trudge my way through dew-ladened grass;
Cooler air nips at my fingertips and toes
As the fog envelopes me in a vague embrace.
The early morning exhales a silent breath,
Disturbing my tangled thoughts as the wind stirs my silver locks,
Draped like burdens on my weary shoulders,
Though they somehow feel lighter in view of the relentless placid ripples on the water’s edge.
Inhaling deeply and looking skyward,
I am reminded of the mountain air in decades past;
Memories of youthful duty in alpine states resurface
Like the diving ducks retrieving their hidden treasures,
Swirling below the gentle water at dawn.
For a moment, I am no longer alone;
A small gathering of deer arrive in front of me.
Unconcerned at my presence, though clearly curious, they turn to face me;
I giggle with surprise as they cross my path;
Content in that moment just to observe each other,
We share in the delight without comment.
A subtle mist descends upon my weary shoulders now;
It’s time to walk home and dream again,
Of mountain fog and joy unencumbered.
Copyright December 2015 by JJHIII24