by Van Gogh


Ladders against a haystack, an empty cart
large-wheeled, long-handled; acres of yellow field;
and in the foreground crudely fenced apart
some large green produce. Here and there take part
a handful of humans whose sure ways engross
the watching mind, till we too feel a close
participation in the summer’s yield.

I think all paintings take us into them.
A tree-scape spreads its dumb life from the stem;
a portrait’s silence is an unlocked door.
A nameless abstract plays perception-tricks
with switching memory-cells until they fix
on what the work was recognisably for:
an alchemy, as though of stone to gem.

If art becomes a journey, it keeps pace
with the continuous recreation in time
of light and sound. Existent without trace
of occupation, in a country place
in France, I glimpse the ancient land-careers
that turn the Earth, down all the harvest-years.
And you may touch the contour in my rhyme.


here and now
who plunder fields in France
with an ex-landlord, in your common estate –

you German child who ran out at nineteen
to find her way in England, a single unit –

who walked in London, past the sadness of self
out to a far view, leaping over her own shadow –

a world-outlook, student of social theory
whose essays yelled a colossal breakneck script –

who shone through a deep hurt, risking the dearness of others
with open heart, again to have friendship ditched –

whose light touched in the richness of her exile
over ten years, a handful of friends and lovers . . .

who strode to work, out to a new career
with London’s young. Who burned the day’s start for me

trainee teacher who lit up the staffroom
with gestures, talking, listening . . .

you who up-ended my life and let the sun in

Apollo-woman who sang of a great love

who stopped in France en route for home, alighting
in the wilds of a small farm of an acquaintance . . .

you have married another.


Van Gogh you painted our blindness well, creator
of lust in corn and envy in trees, who turned
the warm and worked-upon land to lapping water
burying farm-folk . . . who could fetch an ease
to the hardest things. An artist takes the pain
out of the maddened palette of the brain.
You take me back, far back: I have unlearned
to harbour disappointment like disease.

These citizens of Arles do not pretend
to know of other landscapes; yet they send
a universal certainty to me
of what it is, at deepest root, to be.
I see you speak and walk and touch the land
ex-lover; and I let go what I planned
for what has come to be. The earth is turning
to a new harvest, out of my unlearning.

A century ago this journey started.
O will some lover in a century’s time
forget his pain, when he has read my rhyme,
and find a deeper way where ways have parted?
The farm-house and the yellow fields, the cart,
the strange insistent fence, the close-up wildness,
volcanic frenzy held in summer’s mildness . . .
may free him in the alchemy of art.

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