JMW Turner and the Sublime

Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon's coming
Before it seeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying - ne'er heed their chains
Hope, hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?
             JMW Turner (1812)

The master of sublime was born on this day in 1775. Joseph Mallord William Turner was an English painter of the Romantic style, and is well known for his landscape paintings in which he captures the sublime.

Sublime, according to Irish philosopher Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) is a concept which instills fascination mixed with fear when one is in the presence of something larger than oneself. Sublime evokes the power of God and of nature. Turner was a master of instilling his paintings with this concept of sublime – reflecting the British Romantic interest in the awe-inspiring power of nature.

In The Slave Ship (1840), one of his most celebrated paintings, Turner evokes sublime both through the power of nature as seen in the powerful and turbulent ocean and the impending typhoon, and the power of God who is all powerful and sees all of man’s deeds. The shipowner has just emptied a number of sick and old slaves into the ocean for the purpose of collecting insurance for lost cargo, but as the ship moves further into the ocean the typhoon may drown the ship – such is the indiscriminate power of nature that renders all men helpless in its wake.

Here, we are in the presence of an all-powerful, angry, and disapproving God, the bright and fierce sunshine is symbolic of an angry God who will dole out justice to the slave owner when he sails his ship into a typhoon. As a viewer we are left in awe – fearful and inspired in equal measure by the emotions Turner evokes in this painting.

Happy 250th – Mr. Wordsworth

Ten thousand I saw at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance

William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770 and remains one of the world’s most beloved. He was from the Lakes District region of England, and it was here, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, that he wrote the Lyrical Ballads in 1798.  This collection of poems stared a literary, cultural, and artistic movement known as Romanticism. There is no doubt that nature, particularly the landscape of England, was his muse – we can see that from his words, “Come forth into the light of things, Let nature be your teacher.”

The landscape that inspired Wordsworth

The world has paused and one of the beneficiaries of that is nature – and as we look around at the resilience of nature and its ability to recover, we are inspired. We gain an awareness of how steadfast nature is, and its profound and extraordinary impact on us. Wordsworth knew well and loved the landscape he grew up in, and wrote over and over again about its ability to move him.  One such poem is “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1978” or “Tintern Abbey” for short.


Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.

English landscape artist JMW Turner (left) also found inspiration in the abbey, as did Welsh artist Edward Dayes.

Sunday Seven – Persian New Year

I was supposed to go to a Persian friend’s New Year part but that was cancelled. The Persian New Year or Nowruz is on March 20th.  Every year Nowruz coincides with the arrival of spring – it is a celebration of the links between humans and nature.  In honor of the Persian New Year I decided to do quotes by Persian poets for this week’s Sunday Seven.

Whatever is produced in haste, goes hastily to waste. Saadi Shirazi (1210 – 1291).

Have patience, all things are difficult before they become easy. Saadi Shirazi.

Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself. Rumi (1207 – 1273).

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. Rumi.

Raise you words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. Rumi.

Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor. Rumi.

I died a lot to love a little with you. Yaghma Golrrouee

Your heart and my heart are very, very old friends. Hafiz (1315 -1390)

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you. Hafiz.

It does not matter where I am. The sky is always mine. Sohrab Sepehri (1928 – 1980).

Ragged Old Flag

On this Flag Day, I wanted to honor the flag with this poem by Johnny Cash.

Ragged Old Flag

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench an old man was sitting there
I said, your old courthouse is kinda run down
He said, naw, it'll do for our little town
I said, your old flagpole has leaned a little bit
And that's a ragged old flag you got hanging on it

He said, have a seat, and I sat down
Is this the first time you've been to our little town?
I said, I think it is
He said, I don't like to brag
But we're kinda proud of that ragged old flag

You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when 
Washington took it across the Delaware
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing say can you see
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams

And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the texas flag, but she waved on though
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg
And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag

On Flanders field in World War one
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun
She turned blood red in World War Two
She hung limp and low a time or two
She was in Korea and Vietnam
She went where she was sent by Uncle Sam

She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home
In her own good land here she's been abused 
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in
'Cause she's been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don't let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that ragged old flag

(Images Courtesy Smithsonian.com, US Govt and War Archives Websites)