Walter Rhett

The Maudlin and the Mighty

In Arts, History, Ideas, Perlo on April 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm

The Allegory of War, c.1640s

(This is experiemental writing that combines poetic form and ideas into an illustrated essay of insights about living. Click the pictures to enlarge for full effect. Click the title to open the post in its on web page.)

Not politics, but painting makes me reflect upon our dilemma of decay. The best painters create an image of Life weaving the mauldin around its mightiest days. Life laughingly reminds us that what comes together rarely fits together.

The old
Dutch painters with their crowd scenes and outdoor panoramas, or
crowded shops were gifted with a magnificent vision and a hundred
inside jokes.

My favorites are Pieter Brueghel, the Elder and the Younger, from 15th and 16th century Flanders. Their peerless country sides are packed with people, processions, carnivals. They paint vibrant communities of people who bring their life, work, and engagement to the captured moment. Their landscapes stretch from the familiar square to a horizon place beyond our sight but curious to our heart. What’s there? Is the unseen edge a place of mystery whose margin is hope or fear?

The people in their paintings do not yet know they can not escape what is here. That makes what the artists are doing in the paintings less obvious: even as the people are going about every day living they are also trying to preserve or alter the world.

Hope, or fear? I want to reconcile twin,
conflicting odds. To embrace them both. Like the images in the paintings, I want the familiar to offer assurance and comfort. I want
the flow of time to accent what I know. I want fear to be far beyond the horizon, something considered at another time, but it creeps in. Fear has a hard eye.

In my reverie, how do I
find direction without being lost, move back and forth with ease?
Therein lies the beauty of the Brueghel paintings: their effortless back and forth, their blending of the comic with the cosmic, their bouncing the utter impossibility of no escape against the urge to
temporary freedom, to run away, over the hill, to a new tomorrow, a new day. To know in that day the path to hope or fear.

Amiri Baraka, the poet, puts the problem this way:

Who you know
ever Seen God

But everybody seen
The devil

Baraka probes deeper:

Who makeĀ  dough from lies and fear

Do
I captain a tragic flaw or am I my worse enemy or am I just following the herd?
Suppose my truth is your lie and my fear is the source of your courage?
Does the comfort of the herd lead to a foreign place dressed in the garlands of illusions I am unable to escape? Have I
purchased a strange freedom? What do I expect of others who journey
in the same sunshine and storm?

An Iranian poet cries in haunted celebration:
No one will introduce me to the sunlight

Perhaps I can double down; the Elder Pieter Brueghel
painted more than a hundred proverbs in a single scene.

The famous
Fleming Proverbs are mainly about folly, the foolish persistence of
foibles. That seed our vision and deeds. Observe our fear and hope.

Pieter the Younger painted skulls in front of
unbeaten drums next to lifeless body armor, piled in front of dogs
fighting for dominance and submission. What an amazing allegory of
grace! In desolation, we speculate and measure our hope and fear: How
many gone? How many still blind? How many will never see? How many
will be lost or saved?

A day of reckoning is coming and good
and evil have not changed sides or become allies.

While
laughter is living, the paintings of Pieter Brueghel, Elder and
Younger, speak to the bemused; the denied understanding that underscores
living: repentance requires reconciliation before the setting sun.
Every sin has a moral answer. That answer must be expressed as a
living deed, or it is scored. But few even consider the question, or lay the right stones to lead to the answer. The folk in the paintings of the Old Masters rely upon their own reasoning and reckoning. It’s easy to see in their reverie, they excuse or deny the
case hope makes plain before them.

Things are a drag
lately . .

Beyond your voice
is a place I know
that sings
and sings

(Cover image, The Seven Acts of Charity. Inside, top down: The Allegory of War, The Seven Acts, The Dutch Proverbs.)

Easter Sunday, at Shiloh Baptist Church. My daughter was baptised at Shiloh.

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