Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wayne F. Burke writes

Van Gogh

was a restless kid
his mother a cold
his father a parson
of respectability;
Vincent was sent to boarding school
he liked home better
kept returning
like a bad penny
nobody could stand his moodiness
for long
his parents kicked him out
he became a tin Jesus
and went to suffer
with miners
who thought him a fool
he started to make pictures
after his brother began to pay him
a salary
his parents tried to have him
he moved with the speed and
confusion of
a young Rimbaud
who went to Paris too
like Vincent
two years in Montmartre
with Theo
before he blew town
for Arles
in the south
16 hours by train
a yellow house
blue moods
and Gauguin
too cool a cat
watched the breakdown
that had been coming
since Brabrant
the nut house beckoned
the starry night
the therapeutic tub baths
the news from Paris
and the Netherlands
and the paint
the paint
on canvases
and the light
yellow as heaven
ever could be
in majesty
blue fathoms of
and sky
and twinkling eyes
for posterity...
Then escape from the loony bin
to Auvers
where the stars went out for Vincent,
where Gachet the Alienist
without magic
played his bit part...
Vincent's new door-sized
like portals so
and deep
with emptiness
that nothing could 
fill them

 Portrait of Dr. Gachet.jpg
 Portrait of Dr. Gachet [1st version] -- Vincent van Gogh

 Vincent van Gogh - Dr Paul Gachet - Google Art Project.jpg
 Portrait of Dr. Gachet [2nd version] -- Vincent van Gogh


  1. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet was a physician who painted under the name "Paul van Ryssel" (Rijssel is the Dutch name for Lille, a city in La Flandre wallonne near southern Belgique where he grew up. In Paris he knew painters Auguste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, and other painters well. Due to those associations Theo van Gogh thought he was well suited to treat his brother Vincent after his release from the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (later renamed the Clinique Van Gogh), a former monastery near Arles. He was treated at the doctor's other home, in Auvers-sur-Oise. However, Vincent thought the doctor was "sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much.... Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don't they both fall into the ditch?" He killed himself after 10 weeks of consultation. Nevertheless, he told his sister, "I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally." In May 1890 the physician was the model for the artist's only etching (in fact, it was Gachet who introduced him to etching), and he painted him twice in June. The 1st portrait excited him tremendously, and he told his sister it "impassions me most -— much, much more than all the rest of my métier." Gachet acquired the 2nd one, and it became part of his collection (one of the largest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in existence when he died in 1909), which was bequeathed to France in the 1950s and is now in the Musée d'Orsay. The 1st version was bought by Theo's wife for 300 francs. Eventually it made its way to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt but was put in a hidden room in 1933. Four years later it was confiscated by the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who designated it as "degenerate." However, Hermann Göring managed to sell it to Franz Koenigs in Paris, who shipped it to New York in August 1939 as World War II began. In 1990 it was sold for $82.5 million ($154.5 in today's currency) to Saitō Ryōei, who admired it so much that he wanted to have it cremated with him; the sale made it the world's most-expensive painting until 2006.

  2. Malcolm Lowry summarized Arthur Rimbaud's nonliterary life in "On Reading Edmund Wilson’s Remarks About Rimbaud":

    -- Foreman of quarries in Cyprus,
    The granaries of genius rolled down the river,
    Stevedore of Marseilles, friend
    To soap manufacturers in the whuling Cyclades,
    No son to engineer a dream-of bridge,
    Carlist, communist, dutch soldier and
    David to no Goliath in black forest,
    Livid sleeper across real tracks at noonday,
    Absinthe manque at the Yorkshire Grey
    Grey seller of key-rings, shoe-laces, self, trunks,
    Traveller with ‘Springboart & Trumpingakt’,
    Dreamer of railways to Addis Ababa,
    Ahab of the Abysinian rain,
    No Onan spilling false substance of the sun,
    But false enough to betray the moonlight,
    And fiend of the family of Verlaine,
    With balls between your shoulders and elsewhere,
    Cover up the leprosies of old walls,
    Of the soul’s climb with Harrar’s later wisdom,
    Of doleful trafficking with preposterous chiefs,
    And monstrous wives from Obangui-Tchari-Tchad,
    Sailed by camels by who could climb St. Paul’s,
    From Sokotra or the islands of the damned,
    As you may; or build, not sense, canals,
    Poetry snapped to the waist with a snake belt,
    Studded with polite lies precious as stones,
    Still will life close with Isabelle in a dream,
    Dying far from home at harvest time.

    When Rimbaud was 16 he wrote to a friend, "I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed -- and the great learned one! -- among men. -- For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul -- which was rich to begin with -– more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!" Three months later he ran away from his home in northeastern France. Arriving in Paris he was imprisoned for fare evasion and vagrancy and sent back home a month later; he ran away again 10 days after his arrival and began a dissolute lifestyle, which he justified in a letter to a friend: "I'm now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet."

  3. He also sent some of his work to Paul Verlaine, who, 10 years his senior, was already an established poet. Verlaine wrote back, "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you." Verlaine abandoned his government job and his infant son and pregnant wife, and fueled by absinthe, opium, and hashish, the lovers traveled to Bruxelles and London. After 2 years Verlaine briefly rejoined his family but then invited Rimbaud to resume their relationship. But they quarreled constantly, and in July 1873 Verlaine fired 2 shots at Rimbaud, wounding him in the left wrist. Rimbaud returned home to complete "Une Saison en Enfer" (A Season in Hell), in which he obliquely referred to Verlaine as his "pitiful brother" (frère pitoyable) and the "mad virgin" (vierge folle), and to himself as the "hellish husband" (l'époux infernal), locked together in a "domestic farce" (drôle de ménage). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau and worked on revising and writing some prose poems. When Verlaine was released in February 1875, after 2 years of imprisonment at Mons for the shooting, Rimbaud (who had, at 21, already quit writing) gave him the manuscript to pass on to Nouveau to find a publisher. Two years later Nouveau gave it back to Verlaine, who added some earlier poems and then loaned the manuscripts to his wife's 1/2 brother to set it to music. His wife ordered her brother not to return the manuscripts to Verlaine or to anyone else likely to publish them but in 1886, after she divorced Verlaine and remarried, she allowed them to be released as long as Verlaine was not involved in the process. "La Vogue" printed 35 of the poems between 13 May and 21 June and then a revised version, arranged in a different order, in October. Verlaine added a preface and explained why he chose to call the book "Les Illuminations" (originally a subtitle for the work), using the English word in the sense of "colored plates." Rimbaud never knew of its publication; he had left France after writing the 44 poems of the book and rarely mentioned his literary output, which he referred to as "rinçures" (roughly translatable as kitchen "slops"). Rimbaud traveled widely. He became only the 3rd European to visit Harar and became friends with the city's governor, whose son became the future emperor Haile Selassie of Ītiyoṗṗya; he was also the 1st European to oversee the export of its famous coffee. He may have also been a slave trader for awhile. Returning to France in 1891 he had his right leg amputated and died in Marseille in October, shortly after his 37th birthday. While he was dying, Rodolphe Darzens published "Le Reliquaire," the 1st collection of his poems, but became horrified that the book was prefaced by gossipy remarks that reinforced Rimbaud's bad reputation. At Darzens' instigation, on the day after Rimbaud died, the police seized the book, leading to a number of newspaper stories that described the poet as "a slave trader in Uganda" and that he was "ruling over a tribe of Negroes in Africa". In December Rimbaud's sister Isabelle saw an article by one of his old schoolmates that further denigrated his name; in retaliation she began her quest to rehabilitate him as a respectable poet, and the war of biographers began.


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