Woman Reading by Candlelight ~ Peter Ilsted, 1908
Burned onto flimsy wooden signs in souvenir shops, quoted to death on Facebook, memed on Instagram, and included in semi-inspirational books of every sort, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s words continue to resonate nearly two hundred years after his death:
One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, and see a fine picture.
Oddly, Goethe himself never spoke or wrote those words as actual advice. The line belongs to one of Goethe’s characters: a theater manager named Serlo who appears in the novelWilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. It was Serlo who said:
Men are so inclined to content themselves with what is commonest; the spirit and the senses so easily grow dead to the impressions of the beautiful and perfect; that every one should study, by all methods, to nourish in his mind the faculty of feeling these things.
For no man can bear to be entirely deprived of such enjoyments: it is only because they are not accustomed to the taste of what is excellent that the generality of people take delight in silly and insipid things, provided they be new.
‘For this reason,’ he would add, ‘one ought every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.’ [Book V, Chapter 1]
Setting aside for a moment the possibility of speaking a few reasonable words — a phrase generally omitted from the quotation — the relevance of Serlo’s assertion is undeniable. In a world awash in silly and insipid things, it becomes ever easier for our spirits to become deadened to the beauty and creativity surrounding us: both that contained in past tradition and that which arises from our present lives.
“A Huron-Wendat Hunter Calling Moose” ~ Cornelius Krieghoff, 1868
Known as the first North American Christmas carol, “The Huron Carol” was written by Père Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary and accomplished linguist who supervised the preparation of a Huron grammar and dictionary.
After arriving in Quebec from Normandy in 1625, de Brébeuf (1593-1649) lived and worked among the Huron from 1626 to 1629, and then again from 1634 until his torture and death at the hands of the Iroquois in 1649. Canonized in 1930, de Brébeuf became one of the patron saints of Canada.
Like so many early missionaries, de Brébeuf necessarily became an explorer. After being assigned to Huronia, he found himself crossing the 800 miles that separated Quebec from the Hurons by canoe. It was far from an easy trip, as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography makes clear:
Woodworker, carver, sailor, musician: Gordon Bok is an American treasure. Until several years ago, I’d not heard his name and might have missed his artistry forever, had it not been for the graciousness of a reader.
We’d been exchanging thoughts on music, and in an emailed post-script to our discussion he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Gordon Bok’s Turning Toward the Morning.” Pointing me toward Albany, New York’s WAMC and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok: if not this Saturday, then next Saturday for sure. And something by Stan Rogers as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before and will want to hear again.” Continue reading
Ku Klux Klan parade in Washington, D.C. ~ September, 1926
(Library of Congress)
Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you’ve no doubt noticed that things in our nation have been a little chaotic of late. Confrontation, confusion, accusations and counter-accusations: all have played a role in roiling the civic waters. As one of my dear Southern friends likes to say, “I’m plumb wore out.” Continue reading
In a world filled with questions about the creative process, professional photographer and Creative Live founder Chase Jarvis has a few answers. In an intriguing blog entry titled “There are No Excuses,” Jarvis reveals his sensitivity to creative angst:
I’ve heard you say that there’s nothing to take a picture of. I’ve heard you say you don’t know what to make, when to make it, how to make it, what to do.
I’ve heard you say that you don’t know how to get your work “out there.” I’ve heard you say that you don’t know what to put on your blog. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. And I promise you, I, too, have said all these things.
Then, he reminds his readers that such questions are rooted in an earlier time: a time when artists required permission from others for their work to be seen. Permission came in the form of being hired to shoot a news story, to write a magazine feature, or produce a graphic layout for a business.
Church bells. School bells. Sleigh bells. Cow bells. Dinner bells and bicycle bells.
Poe captured their variety and vibrancy perfectly: that tintinnabulation that rang and clanged through a different, non-digital world. Generations were introduced to onomatopoeia through his rollicking, unforgettable verse:
Hear the sledges with the bells,
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars, that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Certain things in life seem to require “developing a taste.” I never developed a taste for Argyle sweaters, good Scotch, foie gras, or post-modernist art, and I nearly missed out on Leonard Cohen.
I first heard Cohen live at Rockefeller’s in Houston, and thought of him at the time as the Bob Dylan of the beret-and-brandy set. His talents as poet and lyricist are obvious. His melodies are haunting and recognizable, and much of his work has enduring appeal.
But that voice! There are times when you have to take your Dylan straight (“Subterranean Homesick Blues” comes to mind) and the same is true for Cohen. His performance of “Suzanne” is worth hearing, but the exquisite renditions produced by Judy Collins and Francoise Hardy brought me to the music and gave me a song for life. Continue reading