Cardiff Museum, Wales Visitation: Poetry, Romanticism and Myth in Art

Warning: Massively long poem ahead! If you don’t want to read it all, skip to the bottom bit to read my thoughts on Cardiff Museum’s exhibition.

In 1967 Allen Ginsberg visited Wales, where he wrote the following poem (almost unsurprisingly, high on LSD)

Wales Visitation

White fog lifting & falling on mountain-brow
Trees moving in rivers of wind
The clouds arise
as on a wave, gigantic eddy lifting mist
above teeming ferns exquisitely swayed
along a green crag
glimpsed thru mullioned glass in valley raine—

Bardic, O Self, Visitacione, tell naught
but what seen by one man in a vale in Albion,
of the folk, whose physical sciences end in Ecology,
the wisdom of earthly relations,
of mouths & eyes interknit ten centuries visible
orchards of mind language manifest human,
of the satanic thistle that raises its horned symmetry
flowering above sister grass-daisies’ pink tiny
bloomlets angelic as lightbulbs—

Remember 160 miles from London’s symmetrical thorned tower
& network of TV pictures flashing bearded your Self
the lambs on the tree-nooked hillside this day bleating
heard in Blake’s old ear, & the silent thought of Wordsworth in eld Stillness
clouds passing through skeleton arches of Tintern Abbey—
Bard Nameless as the Vast, babble to Vastness!

All the Valley quivered, one extended motion, wind
undulating on mossy hills
a giant wash that sank white fog delicately down red runnels
on the mountainside
whose leaf-branch tendrils moved asway
in granitic undertow down—
and lifted the floating Nebulous upward, and lifted the arms of the trees
and lifted the grasses an instant in balance
and lifted the lambs to hold still
and lifted the green of the hill, in one solemn wave

A solid mass of Heaven, mist-infused, ebbs thru the vale,
a wavelet of Immensity, lapping gigantic through Llanthony Valley,
the length of all England, valley upon valley under Heaven’s ocean
tonned with cloud-hang,
—Heaven balanced on a grassblade.
Roar of the mountain wind slow, sigh of the body,
One Being on the mountainside stirring gently
Exquisite scales trembling everywhere in balance,
one motion thru the cloudy sky-floor shifting on the million feet of daisies,
one Majesty the motion that stirred wet grass quivering
to the farthest tendril of white fog poured down
through shivering flowers on the mountain’s head—

No imperfection in the budded mountain,
Valleys breathe, heaven and earth move together,
daisies push inches of yellow air, vegetables tremble,
grass shimmers green
sheep speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with empty eyes,
horses dance in the warm rain,
tree-lined canals network live farmland,
blueberries fringe stone walls on hawthorn’d hills,
pheasants croak on meadows haired with fern—

Out, out on the hillside, into the ocean sound, into delicate gusts of wet air,
Fall on the ground, O great Wetness, O Mother, No harm on your body!
Stare close, no imperfection in the grass,
each flower Buddha-eye, repeating the story,
myriad-formed—
Kneel before the foxglove raising green buds, mauve bells dropped
doubled down the stem trembling antennae,
& look in the eyes of the branded lambs that stare
breathing stockstill under dripping hawthorn—
I lay down mixing my beard with the wet hair of the mountainside,
smelling the brown vagina-moist ground, harmless,
tasting the violet thistle-hair, sweetness—
One being so balanced, so vast, that its softest breath
moves every floweret in the stillness on the valley floor,
trembles lamb-hair hung gossamer rain-beaded in the grass,
lifts trees on their roots, birds in the great draught
hiding their strength in the rain, bearing same weight,

Groan thru breast and neck, a great Oh! to earth heart
Calling our Presence together
The great secret is no secret
Senses fit the winds,
Visible is visible,
rain-mist curtains wave through the bearded vale,
gray atoms wet the wind’s kabbala
Crosslegged on a rock in dusk rain,
rubber booted in soft grass, mind moveless,
breath trembles in white daisies by the roadside,
Heaven breath and my own symmetric
Airs wavering thru antlered green fern
drawn in my navel, same breath as breathes thru Capel-Y-Ffn,
Sounds of Aleph and Aum
through forests of gristle,
my skull and Lord Hereford’s Knob equal,
All Albion one.

What did I notice? Particulars! The
vision of the great One is myriad—
smoke curls upward from ashtray,
house fire burned low,
The night, still wet & moody black heaven
starless
upward in motion with wet wind.

Allen Ginsberg, 1967

Cardiff Museum uses this poem as the nucleus for it’s current modern art exhibition. Whilst I am not really an art connoisseur, I do have a passing interest in impressionism and expressionism – an interest which goes hand in hand with my interest in David Jones. What therefore grabbed me about this exhibition was the presence of two of my favourite poets – Allen Ginsberg and David Jones. In the main entrance to this exhibition was a large screening of Ginsberg reading the poem above and Ginsberg reading a poem is always an experience.

I do not feel qualified to comment on most of the paintings in the exhibition; however, the installation/screening of A Setting by Anthony Shapland (2010) was very interesting. It’s hard to describe but the installation is a film of twilight. Yet looking closely one can see a man at his table reading a newspaper and drinking tea. As with Ginsberg’s and Jones’s poetry, there are many layers to this particulat work of art which I find fascinating.

The other part of the exhibition which I really liked consisted of a series of paintings by David Jones, including Trystan ac Essyllt, Capel-y-ffin, Crucifixion and St Dominic. I had not seen any of these paintings before and so it was a real treat. Jones is interesting because I find that his poetry and his art correlate somewhat. Both have layers, both treat a topic but neither the poem nor the painting can be taken in completely in the first reading/viewing. As one re-reads the poem or looks more closely at the painting, I find different references, different techniques and little hidden things. I found this idea especially applied to Trystan ac Essyllt, probably my favourite painting in the series. I love Jones’s Arthuriana anyway, but here Essyllt (or Isolde as most reader will probably know her) almost fades into the boat. In a very impressionist way, the brushstrokes which paint the boat and the people blend into one and the same, almost hiding the characters in plain sight.

I think I will need to go back again and make proper notes this time because this post does not do justice to Jones’s paintings. I promise an update.

As of today, I will be posting every ten days. This should give me enough time to finish a book and write a post. It also gives me a deadline which is always handy. Next post will be on the 11th June.

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