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Van Gogh's Ear-Limericks - Poem by gershon hepner

Though his favorite color was yellow,
Van Gogh cut off, not feeling mellow,
his right ear, that bled,
which made his face red,
and gifted it in his bordello.

The tart Rachel, to whom Vincent gave it,
asked him: “D’you want me to save it? ”
He said, “Yes, but don’t lend it
to Romans, but mend it.
Though of me it’s deprived, don’t deprave it.”

To bloody ears not well adapted,
she passed out when she first unwrapped it.
The moral is clear:
don’t cut off an ear,
unless with a spare you’re earflapted.

Some people now claim it was Gau-
guin who cut the left ear off Van Gogh.
The cut was an ictus
which I would depict as
a high blow that’s worse than a low.


Adam Gopnik writes about Van Gogh in “Van Gogh’s Ear, ” in the New Yorker, January 4,2010:

On Christmas Eve,1888, in the small Provençal town of Arles, the police found Vincent van Gogh in his bed, bleeding from the head, self-bandaged and semi-conscious. Hours earlier, the Dutchman had given his severed ear to a whore named Rachel in a maison de tolérance, a semi-legal bordello, as a kind of early Christmas gift. She passed out on unwrapping it….

Last year, to front-page headlines around the world, two reputable German academics, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Waldegans, published a book offering a very different account of what happened that night. In “Van Gogh’s Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Paktes Schweigens” (“Van Gogh’s ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence”) , they argue that it was Gauguin who sliced off Van Gogh’s ear, with a sword that he carried with himself for self-defense, and that the two artists––out of shame on Van Gogh’s part, guilt on Gauguin’s––decided to keep the truth to themselves….

“Saul. Paul. Ictus, ” [Gauguin] writes in notes that seem obviously to refer to van Gogh, and alongside the phrase “The murderer took flight.” Ictus (or icthys) is Greek for “fish, ” and it ahs always been held by scholars to eb a reference by the two artists to be practices of the primitive Christians––who used the fish as an acrostic symbol for their sect––and to their own charmed community It was a half-serious greeting between the two: we are sufferers now, we will be saints anon But the German historians argue that the Latin word ictus is also a common term in French fencing, meaning a blow or a hit. This second, punning sense, they suggest, would have been in the front of the mind of a fencer like Gauguin, referring a little reproachfully, to his instinctive act in countering van Gogh’s razor with his word. Their smoking gun, or bloody saber, is a cryptic sketch that Gauguin made in 1889 of a snail-shaped form that looks oddly like a severed ear, with the word “Ictus” written inside it; in the same sketch are what resemble, they argue fencing diagrams. Greek code or Latin cry? The secret password of a collaborative community or a call of triumph after a competitive thri\usrt. Trust or trespass? The new story is suggestive without being entirely convincing.

1/2/10


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