Chimes At Midnight - Poem by gershon hepner
In acts that are increasingly ambiguous,
on stages where the settings are far more
important than ourselves, we know we are contiguous
to nothingness, with close to zero as our score,
We start forgetting fantasies that we minutely,
observed before our powers ebbed away and we
could act no longer as we did when resolutely
we followed all our fancies, feeling fresh and free.
When this occurs to us our life becomes more clear,
for while the play goes on we know the curtain fell
before we understood the plot, and wait to hear
the chimes at midnight that will buzz us into hell.
Holland Cotter writes about a Poussin exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum (“Classical Visions, Romantic Eye, ” NYT, February 15,2008) :
If Poussin borrowed the flesh from Titian and the forms from the antique sculptures that cluttered Rome, he experienced the landscapes firsthand on rural hikes outside the city. For all their delights, these were essentially working tours, mobile sketching sessions. Examples of landscape drawings that emerged from them, some polished, others notational, are in the show — they could easily be in a show of their own — though distinguishing exactly which are by Poussin and which by his various emulators is a scholarly problem. Enough to say there are fewer Poussin drawings today than there were a couple of decades ago. Soon enough prestigious jobs, including an altarpiece for St. Peter’s, came his way, and in 1640 he was invited to return to France as official painter to Louis XIII. What should have been a peak professional moment turned into an unhappy interlude. Poussin disliked court life and balked at the decorative projects he was expected to engineer. Within two years he was back in Rome, working for a small circle of patrons who shared his fascination with science, neo-Classical philosophy and politics and gave him his lead in art. Like the scholar-artists of ancient China, Poussin gradually detached himself from public life. He went into retreat and put his art into reverse, bringing what had once been background forward, concentrating on the subject he cared most about, nature. What he produced, though, wasn’t nature painting in the strict sense. It wasn’t a physical transcription. It was painting as a mode of thinking, the way certain poetry is, like Keats’s late Romantic odes, with their antique references, modern speculation and sensual delirium, each element checking and fueling the others. Most of Poussin’s landscapes continued to be stage sets for mythological or biblical scenes. But the actors grew ever smaller, their actions more ambiguous, the settings more dynamic and enveloping, and more specific. They are fantasies with minutely observed realistic details. In “Landscape With Orpheus and Eurydice, ” depicting the marriage of the doomed couple, the figures in the wedding party suggest a generic ballet ensemble, all flying gowns and antigravitational grace. But why does that building on the horizon look familiar? Because it appears to be the Castel Sant’Angelo, a Roman landmark in Poussin’s day and our own. The other novelty here is that it seems to be going up in smoke. The Eternal City, it seems, isn’t so eternal after all. In another fabulous later picture, we see the philosopher Diogenes discarding his drinking cup, his last worldly possession, as he transfixedly watches a youth sip water directly from a stream. The verdure that surrounds them seems almost surreally moist and fresh-budded — a mescaline vision of nature, each leaf and pebble individually defined and vivacious, as if viewed through the philosopher’s newly unburdened enlightened mind.
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