Sunday, March 22, 2009

Eugene and Caspar Jump Through Plato's Window

Fig. 1. Caspar David Friedrich - Sunrise over the Sea, c. 1826

EDMUND: You've just told me some high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They're all connected with the sea. Here's one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself - actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! ... Then another time, on the American line, when I was lookout on the crow's nest in the dawn watch. A clam sea, that time. Only a lazy groundswell and a slow drowsy roll of the ship. The passengers asleep and none of the crew in sight. No sound of man. Black smoke pouring from the funnels behind and beneath me. Dreaming, not keeping lookout, feeling alone, and above, and apart, watching the dawn creep like a painted dream over the sky and sea which sleep together. Then the moment of ecstatic freedom came, the peace, the end of the quest, the last harbour, the joy of belonging to a fulfilment beyond men's lousy, pitiful, greedy fears and hopes and dreams! And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see - and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason! (He grins wryly.) It was a great mistake, my being born a man. I would have been much more successful as a sea-gull or fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death!

From Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill

Fig. 2a. & 2b.

Addendum #1:

Interview with Bill Viola at the Venice Biennale, 2007 (TateShots)

Addendum #2: Katie (thanks!) and ESVM's poetry corner...

Even though I live close to the Pacific ocean, seeing this Friedrich and reading the O'Neill passage (I so need to re-read Long Day's Journey!) make me think of the Atlantic ocean, and how much the sea meant to my Grandfather. I'm sure he had a similar sense of a bigger belonging when out at sea.

I'll lay off the ESVM for a while as I'm sure you're tiring of her, but she had such strong feelings about her beloved Maine coast, and I think she and Edmund would have been a good match:


People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore, -
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbour's head,
What do they long for, as I long for, -
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning, -
One salt taste of the sea once more?

Addendum #3: Anonymous' (thanks!) poetry corner...

L'Homme et la mer

Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer!
La mer est ton miroir; tu contemples ton âme
Dans le déroument infini de sa lame,
Et ton esprit n'est pas un gouffre moins amer

Tu te plais à plonger au sein de ton image;
Tu l'embrasses des yeux et des bras, et ton coeur
Se distrait quelquefois de sa propre rumeur
Au bruit de cette plainte indomptable et sauvage.

Vous êtes tous les deux ténébreux et discrets:
Homme, nul n'a sondé le fond de tes abimes;
O mer, nul ne connait tes richesses intimes,
Tant vous êtes jaloux de garder vos secrets!

Et cependant voilà des siècles innombrables
Que vous vous combattez sans pitié ni remord,
Tellement vous aimez le carnage et la mort,
O lutteurs éternels, ô frères implacables!

Charles Baudelaire (Les Fleurs du Mal)