God is not in the earthquake but in the still, small voice

May 4, 2009

That’s a John Ruskin quote.

I was reading this article in a poetry journal and then it occurred to me that many of my favorite paintings are from a school of 19th century American art called Luminism whose primary concern is with the depiction of light within a landscape. I’m always engaged by works that rely on light for texture, whether it’s in art, literature or even life.

Anyways, Luminism is a very reflective style of painting which uses light to illuminate space the way a poem does. It speaks to me particularly given my adoration for Caspar David Friedrich and I.C.Dahl. The absence of humanity usually speaks more to me than its presence. In its place, elements like light and lightness, immensity. The Hudson River School which Thomas Cole, who painted The Voyage of Life a highlight of my trip to DC last winter, founded led to the luminists, who were his proteges and parallel heirs. Kensett’s the most famous one though Fred Church is my favorite.

There’s a wonderful poem by Mark Strand at that first link titled Luminism. That last line devastated me.

-Mark Strand

And though it was brief, and slight, and nothing
To have been held onto so long, I remember it,
As if it had come from within, one of the scenes
The mind sets for itself, night after night, only
To part from, quickly and without warning. Sunlight
Flooded the valley floor and blazed on the town’s
Westward facing windows. The streets shimmered like rivers,
And trees, bushes, and clouds were caught in the spill,
And nothing was spared, not the couch we sat on,
Nor the rugs, nor our friends, staring off into space.
Everything drowned in the golden fire. Then Philip
Put down his glass and said: “This hand is just one
In an infinite series of hands. Imagine.”
And that was it. The evening dimmed and darkened
Until the western rim of the sky took on
The purple look of a bruise, and everyone stood
And said what a great sunset it had been. This was a while ago,
And it was remarkable, but something else happened then—
A cry, almost beyond our hearing, rose and rose,
As if across time, to touch us as nothing else would,
And so lightly we might live out our lives and not know.
I had no idea what it meant until now.


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