28 December 2013

Peace on Earth ?


















"This season always makes me think of peace,
Or dream of it at least, as I ignore
The signs of it receding from the world:
The headlines' promise of another war,

Or dream of it at least, as I ignore
An unkempt man who begs for change, who keeps
The headlines' promise of another war,
The rich against the poor, it's me against

This unkempt man who begs for change, who keeps
Reminding me of my humanity,
the rich against the poor, it's me against
The forces of injustice, all alone

Reminding me of my humanity,
My coffee burns my tongue.  It hurts to drink
The forces of injustice.   All alone
In bed last night I dreamed this happy dream:

Because I'm nearly dead from thirst and then
In bed  - O last of nights! - I dreamed.  This dream
Was like my dream of peace, except peace wins
My coffee burns my tongue, it hurts to drink
Because there's one dead from thirst.  And then
The world was pure again, receiving gifts
And giving them.  I toss the man my change.
This season always makes me question peace."
 -  Begging for Change In Winter by Rafael Campo, from Diva, Raleigh, Duke University Press: 1999.
Rafael Campo (b. 1964 in Dover, New Jersey.  He is a practicing physician at Harvard Medical School and the author of several books of poetry.

John Francis Spenlove  (1864-1933) was well-known during his lifetime but is now relatively obscure, at least outside western Europe.  During his lifetime his work was was much admired.  His Funeral in The Low Country - A Day In Winter was shown at the International Exposition in Paris in 1900 and promptly purchased by the French state.  The same thing happened with Too Late !, making it one of two paintings now owned by the Musee d'Orsay.  As I wrote recently, in regard to the American painter Ben Foster, the French were eager to acquire works by non-French artists, annexing them to la patrimonie
 
I should add that an alternative title The Return has been given by the museum.  Everything about the picture, from the chill winter light faking on the shabby housing to the expressive curve of the man's body as he leans into the tree suggests to me another title – The Unconsoled.  Spenlove-Spenlove's human figures, whether alone or together, call out for our compassion.  There is a genre in  contemporary art that calls for compassion, or at least claims that aim, by showing the inflicting of pain.  But we may wonder.  Since first seeing a reproduction of Too Late ! a half dozen years ago, I have returned to it again and again, each winter.

Image:
Frank Spenlove-Spenlove - Too Late !, 1905, Musee d'Orsay, Paris

13 comments:

Cranky Bird said...

Very nice--thanks!

Sally Chupick said...

lovely painting, and poem. I also love the illustration of the angel and the Xmas tree below. thanks for your lovely blog, and happy holidays.

Patricia said...

Peace, yes ! No war, of course. Bonne et belle fin d'année 2013, Jane.

Anonymous said...

Peace is more elusive than we think. Author C. David Coates wrote an eye opening poem which, like a mirror, exposes us to truths we may not wish to see. Here is a slightly modified version of that poem.

"Aren't humans amazing? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and then plead for 'Peace on Earth.'"

The good news is that anyone can break this cycle of violence. I did and you can too. Each of us has the power to choose compassion. Peace begins in the kitchen. Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: http://veganvideo.org & http://tryveg.com

Jane said...

Crank-bird, I'm happy you like this, as I do.

Jane said...

Sally, you are welcome, and a bright New Year to you.

Jane said...

Patricia, merci beaucoup! La paix est tres belle.

Jane said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jane said...

Anonymous, I had wasn't familiar with this poem, so thank you. The phrase 'peace on earth' is associated particularly with this time of year, at the same time that many people seem unconsoled. Visitors to this website spike around the winter holidays. At the same time I am surprised at the people I know who seem to disappear.
I think we regard loneliness as shameful, and I wonder if it is connected to the grip of materialism on our spirits.

Tania said...

"Compassion", the same word in French, the right word to say what this picture inspires.
Peace on earth, let's make a dream.

Jane said...

Tania,thank you. The first time I looked at this painting I was so touched by the figure of the man that I failed to notice that the door at right is open and someone inside is looking out at him. A death? Quite possibly. Unutterably sad.

femminismo said...

A good reminder so everyone spends a bit more time thinking about humanity and their role in helping it get "a leg up."

Jane said...

Jeanne, happy New Year to you. An image that catches your eye and then draws you deeper in, indeed. Rafael Campo makes good use of traditional poetic forms and this particular poem is as riveting in its way as Spenlove-Spenlove's painting is.