He lives, who last night flopped from a log
Into the creek, and all night by an ankle
Lay pinned to the flood, dead as a nail
But for the skin of the teeth of his dog.

I brought him boiled eggs and broth.
He coughed and waved his spoon
And sat up saying he would dine alone,
Being fatigue itself after that bath.

I sat without in the sun with the dog.
Wearing a stocking on the ailing foot,
In monster crutches, he hobbled out,
And addressed the dog in bitter rage.

He told the yellow hound, his rescuer,
Its heart was bad, and it ought
Not wander by the creek at night;
If all his dogs got drowned he would be poor.

He stroked its head and disappeared in the shed
And came out with a stone mallet in his hands
And lifted that rocky weight of many pounds
And let it lapse on top of the dog’s head.

I carted off the carcass, dug it deep.
Then he came too with what a thing to lug,
Or pour on a dog’s grave, his thundermug,
And poured it out and went indoors to sleep.

I saw him sleepless in the pane of glass
Looking wild-eyed at sunset, then the glare
Blinded the glass—only a red square
Burning a house burning in the wilderness.

— Galway Kinnell (1927-2014).


How Could You Not?

— for Jane kenyon

It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters;
small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower
visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go
to the open door and look across at New Hampshire
and see that there, too, the sun is bright
and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon;
and I think: How could it not have been today?
In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing
the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly,
as if in the past, to those who once sat
in the steel seat of the old mowing machine,
cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper,
and drew the cutter bars little
reciprocating triangles through the grass
to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning
and found yourself grown completely tired
of the successes and failures of medicine,
of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly
now and then by hope that had that leaden taste?
Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it
and see that, now, it was not wrong to die
and that, on dying, you would leave
your beloved in a day like paradise?
Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little?
How could you not already have felt blessed for good,
having these last days spoken your whole heart to him,
who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence
he would not feel a single word was missing?
How could you not have slipped into a spell,
in full daylight, as he lay next to you,
with his arms around you, as they have been,
it must have seemed, all your life?
How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek,
which presses itself to yours from now on?
How could you not rise and go, with all that light
at the window, those arms around you, and the sound,
coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine
plane in the distance that no one else hears?

 — Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)


How should secular people approach sacred art?

Pelagia Horgan’s meditation on Fra Angelico in Aeon: “For a long time, I loved Angelico as the Mulleavy sisters did – for his use of colour, the way he played with pattern and proportion. He’s always been a favourite; years ago I spent two days in the Louvre in Paris, but all I remember seeing is his Coronation of the Virgin. Yet I hardly thought about the content of his paintings. I loved him for the reasons I loved abstract painters, and grouped him with Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly and Rothko in my mind. Whatever his appeal for me, I imagined it could be explained through some combination of colour theory, cognitive science, aesthetic philosophy and mathematics.

But something happened to me in Florence that which changed the way I see him. Before, I’d never encountered more than a couple of Angelico’s paintings at a time. At San Marco, I was surrounded by them. Half an hour into my visit, as I stood in the gallery downstairs, a funny feeling came over me, an extraordinary calm. I felt unusually centred, alert, open to the world, the way I’ve always imagined those Buddhist monks who change their brain waves through a lifetime of meditation must feel.

I noticed something about Angelico’s paintings that I hadn’t before. It had to do with the way his figures used their hands. His is a vision of the world as it might appear through the eyes of a compassionate God: a world in which everything has existential value and nothing is without meaning. What makes his paintings so moving is that the people in them share that vision. You see this in the way they reach out for one other, and touch everything gently, with infinite care, as though it were priceless. With every touch they seem to affirm the sacredness of the world. James had understood this from the start: ‘No later painter,’ he wrote in Italian Hours, ‘learned to render with deeper force than Fra Angelico the one state of the spirit he could conceive – a passionate pious tenderness … his conception of human life was a perpetual sense of sacredly loving and being loved.’

As I looked at the paintings, I realised I was mirroring, slightly, the way the figures carried themselves – the light but steady way they held their bodies, the graceful way they held their hands. This mirroring was the mechanism, I think, behind the sense of deep calm I experienced, a sense of having entered a new atmosphere. I felt I’d encountered an almost physical medium – something I could walk in, be immersed in, something that could change the climate in a room, and make everything feel sweeter, cooler, calmer, brighter than before…



How CGI changed reality on screen

Jonathan Romeny writes (via Aeon),

CGI has become wearingly dull and cliched. Can its deep weirdness be recovered and filmgoers’ minds stretched again?

 “…One tradition in writing about cinema, represented notably by the mid-20th-century French critic André Bazin, asserts the primacy of the photographic capture of the real – the recording on film of objects that have actually existed, events that have actually happened.

Digital cinema rewrites that conception, because we can no longer assume that a screen image represents anything that has ever been real. A landscape might be a composite of several actual landscapes, or wholly or partly fabricated from pixels. Film theory has been forced to confront a radical change in its object of study.

Stephen Prince, professor of cinema studies at Virginia Tech, noted in his essay ‘True Lies’ 1996 that CGI severs the ‘indexical’ or causal connection between an image and the object it represents, which might have no original in the real world; instead, we are presented with imaginary objects that can nonetheless be considered ‘perceptually realistic’.

Another theorist, Lev Manovich, at the City University of New York, has argued that CGI reveals that the conception of photographic recording as essential to cinema was a historic accident, and that the new digital regime returns cinema to its place in an earlier conception of visual representation as involving the manual construction of images. ‘Cinema becomes a particular branch of painting – painting in time,’ he writes in ‘What Is Digital Cinema?’ 1996.

For Bazin, however, the recording of real presences, of people’s real engagement in the material world, comprised a crucial ethical dimension of cinema. And this dimension cannot disappear without making a difference…”