Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TC: The Night of the Life of the Mind 1 / Georges de La Tour


Little Prince basks serene
As an Egyptian god on his barge
On the green cushion, gently breathing

While in his sleep mouselike plays the mind
With its empty toys less real
Than the large drops of rain the nightwind tosses

The night, dark as the flooding of the Nile
The brain, that clouded crystal ball
Blurry with drowned thoughts—

A waterlogged squirrel that gathers
Its nuts to float this dream of words sub noctis
From magic to error, from aether to terra

On the upriver stream toward morning

"La Tour's various representations of Mary Magdalene
rework the nocturne in the direction of self-scrutiny
and penitence; the candle sits next to a skull, and it is the skull,
not her own beauty, that the saint pensively considers in the mirror.
La Tour exploits to the full the capacity of candlelight
to spirit away the world that lies outside its own bright centre,
and swallow it up in darkness; it is as though nothing exists
beyond the figure's own solitude."

—Norman Bryson


Tom Raworth said...

Darkness and its points of view. Good to see Norman.


Anonymous said...


Ah, small world. Was Norman B. not at King's during your epoch? His comment comes from a wonderful piece he wrote in the TLS in 1996, reviewing Philip Conigsbee's Georges de La Tour and His World. N.B. goes into how the Renaissance image, in which everything was luminous and nothing was hidden from view, thus allowing the viewer to grasp the story as economically as possible, was undermined (blacked-out?) in the 17th c., first by Caravaggio and then most decisively by GdLT.

Of course in using lighting and the meaning of lighting as the basis of his pictures GdLT was also by implication using darkness and the meaning of darkness--which, in a curious way, seems a mode almost more available to us presently, if only by elimination, does it not? What's not seen being so much more likely to be encroaching upon us than what's seen, at any given moment. (Thus the continuous virtual if not also literal watching of our backs, etc.)