Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.

Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails (after Osip Mandelstam). 16"×20", Oil on canvas panel, February 2013

The original plein air study from a nearby Pacific beach has been reworked to the rhythms and rhymes of this poem by Osip Mandelstam (the translation below is from the Northwestern Russian poetry site).


Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.
I've read through half the list of ships:
This spun-out brood, this train of cranes
That once ascended over Hellas.  
A wedge of cranes to foreign shores,-
Your kings' heads wreathed in spray,-
Where are you sailing? Were it not for Helen,
Achaeans, what would Troy have been to you?  
The sea and Homer - love moves all.
Where should I turn? Here Homer is silent,
While the Black Sea clamors oratorically
And reaches my pillow with a heavy roar. 

In case you'd like to hear some music behind the poem, here is the original Russian text sung by Elena Frolova:


That's not how I would hear it, but, I suppose, the way I paint it is also not like everyone sees it, so that's all right: the point is, after all, to keep great texts alive and breathing by sharing as many ways to hear and see them as possible. 

For me, the poem's essence is in listening to, and giving voice, to the eternal interaction which defines our lives, the interaction between a mind filled with stories and the sound and colours of the world outside us. The interaction which can momentarily dissolve the ego in its powerful waves. Moved by love, what else? It's always love, in the end of the day, isn't it? And beauty: the face that launched a thousand ships // and burnt the topless towers of Ilium...
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