Friday, August 04, 2017

High Water Everywhere

When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as night...
I woke up early this mornin', a water hole in my back yard...
Backwater rising, come in my windows and door... 
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break...
I think I heard a moan, on the Arkansas side...
Nothing but muddy water, as far as I could see...
Lord the whole round country, man, is overflowed...
These are lines from songs by Bessie Smith, Barbecue Bob, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy.  They all touch in different ways on the floods of the late twenties, particularly the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.  You can hear clips on the New York Public Radio's list, Great Songs About the Great Flood.  I learnt from the accompanying article that filmmaker Bill Morrison and guitarist-composer Bill Frisell have collaborated recently on a documentary called The Great Flood.  'Morrison’s films are usually inventive, phantasmagorical affairs, built on decaying silent film stock; here he bases his work on archival documentary footage from 1927, and Frisell provides a score that’s full of his eclectic take on Americana, jazz, and contemporary music. The result is a meditation on the American landscape, on loss, and on consequences -- whether intended or not.'


I've been thinking about the blues and landscape this week, after reading Hari Kunzru's new novel, White Tears, which is partly set in Mississippi.  The way his protagonists are lured into the music's mythic history took me back to my own early enthusiasm for it, when finding information about the early musicians or hearing the records was still not straightforward.  As a sixth former I would take a bus to Sussex University library (you could just walk in if you looked like you were meant to be there) and spend time reading publications in the wonderful Jazz Book Club series.  Paul Oliver was the most prominent British writer on the blues and he seemed to have a fantastic life as an architect with a sideline in musical research.  Just now I dug out an anthology of his writings published in 1984, Blues off the Record, and it's noticeable how many of them describe the landscape that gave rise to the music in some detail, as if the blues was an aspect of geography.  His writing is not especially poetic, but any of those southern place names had an exotic poetry.  'As you descend from the hilly, wooded landscape of De Soto, Tate and Panola Counties in Mississippi to the flat bottomlands of the Mississippi River flood-plain, the landscape changes.  Not dramatically, because the hills aren't high enough to be a dramatic contrast, but very noticeably so, all the same...'

 
The early blues collectors are as fascinating as the singers themselves and much has now been written about them too.  They included people like John Fahey and Al Wilson (Canned Heat) who also made their own music and performed with renowned bluesmen.  I don't usually quote Wikipedia but I thought this paragraph in the entry for Al Wilson interesting, and as I'm a bit short of time at the moment, I will just leave this with you, along with a clip of 'Going up the Country'...
'Wilson was a passionate conservationist who loved reading books on botany and ecology. He often slept outdoors to be closer to nature. In 1969, he wrote and recorded a song, "Poor Moon", which expressed concern over potential pollution of the moon. He wrote an essay called 'Grim Harvest', about the coastal redwood forests of California, which was printed as the liner notes to the Future Blues album by Canned Heat. Wilson was interested in preserving the natural world, particularly the redwood trees. When he died, so too did the Music Mountain organization he had initiated dedicated to this purpose. In order to support his dream, Wilson's family has purchased a "grove naming" in his memory through the Save the Redwoods League of California. The money donated to create this memorial will be used by the League to support redwood reforestation, research, education, and land acquisition of both new and old growth redwoods.'

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Taste of a Stone

The Documenta 14 catalogue is organised in a way that appeals to my fondness for chronologies - each of the 163 living artists is allotted a double page corresponding to a day during the duration of the exhibition, and is also allowed to pick one date that is particularly important for them.  The artists are then ordered in accordance with their special dates, so for example Susan Hiller chose 4 November 1899 (the date Freud's Interpretation of Dreams was published) which means that she gets August 16th, in between artists who went for events in 1900 and 1897.  I'm not sure if this makes sense without looking through the catalogue.. in any case it's not really relevant to what I thought I would do here: highlight those artists in Documenta who have been addressing the landscape in various ways.  This is not necessarily an exhaustive list but it gives an idea of the range of current practice.  Some of these artists are using various media to consider sites round the world that are threatened, contested or marked with traces of recent political change.  Others are finding new approaches to the profusion of new land and environmental art practices that emerged in the sixties.

The landscape as artist
Probably every artist at Documenta is influenced at some level by landscape, but some allow it to act on their own work, bring a chance element to the final product.  Nevin Aladağ has made a sound piece out of furniture for Documenta but she has previously made city symphonies by filming instruments being played by the environment itself.  In City Language I , 'a flute held out the car window is played by the wind; claves tumble down streets; a tambourine skates across the water behind a boat'.  That was in Istanbul; in the video clip below she describes a more recent piece made in the playgrounds and pedestrian areas of Stuttgart.  Another artist who allows the landscape to complete her artworks is the Guatemala-based painter Vivian Suter.   Leaving her work outdoors, 'she befriends deluge and mud; she invites time to act on her canvases in the manner of acid biting an etched plate. Implicit in the work is a politics of insistent experimentation and an embrace of ruin.'


Landscape documentation
Khvay Samnang's is represented at Documenta by work he made in the Areng Valley, the last great forest in Cambodia, now under threat from a hydroelectric dam project.  A few years ago he highlighted pollution in the lakes of Phnom Phen, wading into them and pouring buckets of sand over his head.  Bonita Ely has had similar environmental concerns and is best known for The Murray River Project.  In the video clip below she describes coming to the river in 1977 when concerns over pollution were first emerging.  She did field research at five locations, objectively photographing the water through cartographic grids (she says she is fascinated by maps and the way they reflect our real interests - "we don't make maps of where daisies grow, we don't make maps of how a butterfly flies across the landscape").   The ecology of the river continues to be disrupted through irrigation and the construction of weirs: "the health of the river depends on flooding but nobody wants it to flood."  Ely has recently returned to the original locations to document how they have changed.  She has also reprised a performance piece called Murray River Punch in which she serves up an unappealing cocktail of all the pollutants that are put into the river. 


Landscape performance
Many of the artists here incorporate performance into their multimedia practice.  It might seem a stretch to think of Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens as landscape artists but perhaps we should.  Sprinkle recently took a Guardian journalist on an “ecosexy nature walk” - "a nature walk with a former porn star who keeps encouraging me to find my Eco spot (or E-spot) is much more exciting than anything I’ve seen on Countryfile".  Something perhaps for a future Robert Macfarlane book?  Documenta also contains archival material from the long career of postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin.  In their catalogue essay Pierre Bal-Blanc and Lou Forster highlight the continuing importance of her outdoor dance deck, 'built in collaboration with Lawrence, her husband, the landscape architect, urban designer, and ecologist, between 1953 and 1954, in the redwood area of Kentfield, California.'  Performances that relate in different ways to nature and landscape stretch from The Branch Dance (1957) to Spirit of Place (2009). You can see the dance deck in the video clip below.


Land art structures
Agnes Denes is an artist I discussed here in one of my early blog entries, a short post about Tree Mountain.  Much more recently she has made another land art pyramid, in Long Island City, New York.  Candice Hopkins describes it in the Documenta catalogue: 'constructed of stacked wooden terraces filled with soil and thousands of various living plants, the sculpture arcs nine meters up toward the sky.  It is a social structure. Social because the planted material conveys ideas of evolution and regeneration; the work also cultivates a micro-society of people responsible for its planting and ongoing care.'  You can see images of it in a Brooklyn Rail article which praises her pioneering role, as a land artist more interesting in growing things than excavating new landforms.  However, it also notes that she has been criticised for creating in Tree Mountain a version of mono-agriculture, 'the creatures inhabiting her forests aren’t allowed the kind of complex habitat that would be more to their liking. We now know that trees communicate through their root systems, educating their neighbors. Nature has no voice in Denes’s work.'

Artificial landscapes 
Lois Weinberger works with ruderals (plants growing on waste ground) and for this year's exhibition at Kassel 'he has excavated a “cut” through the park beside the Orangerie and then abandoned it to whatever will emerge.'  You can see a similar work made in Cologne on his website - what makes it interesting is the contrast between the 'wild' weeds and carefully mown park grass.  Twenty years ago for Documenta 10, Weinberger 'planted a garden amongst the railway tracks of Kassel’s central station. The plants were cultivated from seeds of ruderal plants collected throughout Central and Eastern Europe, during and after the collapse of communism. These nomadic survivors, ‘foreign immigrants’ to German soil, flourished amongst the transit lines of ‘Old Europe’, subverting any human projection of territorial sovereignty, or fixed borders, and still do so today' (Tom Trevor, 'Lois Weinberger: The Three Ecologies').

Louis Weinberger, What is Beyond the Plants / Is at One with Them, 1997
Source: Wikimedia Commons (Dietmar Walberg)

Political landscapes
Mexican artist Guillermo Galinda has made instruments from objects found along the U.S. border and for Documenta he is is composing new music scores, 'odes for border crossers'.  The video below shows a more spectacular work about the U.S./Mexican border, Repellent Fence by the Postcommodity collective.  Where borders have come down, there is a fascination in what the landscape retains of societies that have been completely changed.  Ulrich Wüst trained as a town planner and began photographing East Germany in the 1970s.  There were usually no people in his images - 'the sozialistischer Staat der Arbeiter und Bauern is symbolically devoid of its titular workers and farmers.'  Edi Hila lives in Tirana and paints buildings that have been left behind in time.  "In these abandoned houses hope and the desire to inhabit them has departed with the migrant. These houses have been transformed into objects, almost weird and absurd..." 


Disappearing landscapes
Here's a good opening line for one of the catalogue entries.  'In August 1988, four days after appearing in the seminal Freeze exhibition with fellow students at Goldsmiths College of Art, Lala Meredith-Vula left London for the Albanian countryside, where she began to photograph haystacks.'  While the YBAs did their thing, she continued making her photographs in what had been Yugoslavia.  'Their forms are governed by habits of working the land, which are older than nations. The needs of animals and the poetic license of farmers play their parts. Yet, even if haystacks do not belong in the polis, are not political subjects per se, they do bear silent witness to history.'  There is actual hay from another part of Eastern Europe in Documenta, woven into the work of Olaf Holzapfel.  His hay canvases are made with local people in a village on the border between Lower Silesia and Greater Poland (as explained in an article in Frieze).  They are part of a complicated installation, Zawn, with components that 'range the gamut from architectural models of medieval churches and nineteenth-century mine shafts to the writings of Austrian critic Kristian Sotriffer and the graphic work of Hermann Glöckner.'

Landscape as memory
Finally, there is art made from the artist's own memories of places that have undergone profound change.  Abel Rodriguez was born around 1944 in the Colombian Amazon and became an expert in plants.  He was employed by a Dutch NGO, Tropenbos International Colombia, that wanted local experts and later moved to the city, assuming a Western name.  There he began working again with the NGO, creating botanical drawings from memory.  These jungle landscapes 'are the visions of someone who sees the potential of plants as food, material for dwellings and clothing, and for use in sacred rites.'  He doesn't consider his pictures as art, but talks about what they show and how the animals and plants in them behave with the changing seasons.  Fish "start going up the river because they know that the water is going to rise, and they're looking for the overflows to enjoy the abundance of worms and seeds."  Monkeys "stay because they like to look at their reflection, as ugly as it is, in the water."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hoar Frost

 Camille Pissarro, Landscape, St. Thomas, 1856
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I was reading in the news the other day about a forthcoming Tate exhibition, Impressionists in London, French artists in exile (1870-1904), which will include two views of Kew by Camille Pissarro that have never been shown in the UK before.  I'm sure it'll be interesting, but I'd have been much more curious to see an exhibition that has just finished at Ordrupgaard in Denmark: Pissarro. A Meeting on St. Thomas.  This 'meeting' was with the Danish Golden Age painter Fritz Melbye, who arrived seeking inspiration on St Thomas - now one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, then part of the Danish West Indies - around 1850.  The young Pissarro had been sent away to school in France but was back working for his father whilst aspiring to become an artist.  The two of them became friends and in 1853 they headed off to Venezuela, where they would spend two years sharing a studio before parting company - Pissarro for France and the birth of Impressionism, Melbye for further adventures in the Caribbean and Far East.  

Pissarro is also the subject of an excellent New York Review of Books article by Julian Bell which discusses two more exhibitions dedicated to his work in Paris.  It begins with one of the paintings that appeared in the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, Gelée blanche.  This is now in the Musée d'Orsay, who quote the most scornful response from a contemporary reviewer, Louis Leroy: 'those are sheer scratches of paint uniformly put on a dirty canvas. It has neither head or tail, neither top or bottom, neither front or back.''  It is hard to imagine any treatment of this humble motif that would have pleased such critics, but Pissarro's winter earth, painted without earth colours, must have seemed particularly off putting.  You can't simply enter into this landscape, letting the eye be led into the distance.  Hoar Frost is a world away from Pissarro's carefully composed view of St Thomas.  Its rough paint surface is hard going, like the frosty ground beneath the peasant's feet.

Camille Pissarro, Hoar Frost, 1873
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The whole of Julian Bell's article on Pissarro is well worth reading, but here is how he explains the particular magic of Hoar Frost.  
'Oil painting can turn shadows from nothings into palpable somethings: slabs of rich color. The gently rising Île-de-France farmland depicted in Hoar Frost (Gelée blanche à Ennery) becomes an intricate weaving of russets, blue-greens, umbers, and pale yellows as morning sun shines on it from behind a row of poplars. As you approach the canvas, the bristles that have scuffed it with stiff, clotted brushloads seem to rasp your skin, and you are jolted into a poetry of chill January: a poetry sustained by close plein air observation and resolved with a scrupulous completeness.
'At the same time, you may perhaps register the oddness of the operation. Those long stripes of shadow criss-crossing the ruts and country road are cast by no visible object. The colors of what’s sunlit and the colors of what isn’t meet in stout equivalence on the canvas, but for anyone on the scene—say that trudging peasant with his load of sticks—the former would have priority. We expect grass to be green more than we expect it to be blue. In effect, the shadows spook the comfortable farmland, nagging us with the consideration that a further unseen presence stands beneath the poplars, that of the observing artist.'

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

From the flowers of summer

 

Having mentioned in my last post one enjoyable book published last year, I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend another, Christopher de Hamel's much-praised Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.  Plants, birds and animals abound in medieval manuscripts, as is evident in the cover of the book itself, an illustration from the Morgan Beatus, fifth of the twelve Remarkable Manuscripts that the author visits.  Morgan is the Morgan Library in New York, Beatus is Beatus of Liébana (c. 730 – c. 800), a monk whose commentaries on the Apocalypse were written in the Picos de Europa mountains just at the time Charlemagne was fighting the Moors in Spain.  The manuscript was made later, in north-west Spain, and is actually signed by a scribe called Maius (d. 968).  It includes a map ('extremely naive and based on echoes of Roman geography') and Mozarabic paintings with colours and patterns suggesting 'the tiles and mosaics of Islamic architecture', but nothing, unsurprisingly, that could be called a 'landscape'.  Later in the book, though, there is a full-page landscape illustration and it appears in what is probably the most famous of de Hamel's Remarkable Manuscripts.

Illustration from the Carmina Burana
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Carmina Burana is a collection of songs and poems, mainly about love and drinking, made around 1230 somewhere in the county of Tyrol, in what is now Austria.  It has become world famous thanks to Carl Orff's cantata, first staged in 1937; his setting of the first song in the manuscript, O Fortuna, has been recycled endlessly in films and will forever be associated in Britain with the advert for Old Spice aftershave.  Here though I am interested in one of the other poems, which begins "Ab estatis floribus amor nos salutat' ('From the flowers of summer, love greets us...')  The accompanying illustration, de Hamel writes, 'shows two scenes in verdant woodland.  This must be a prime candidate for the earliest pure landscape in all of medieval art.'

As you can see, this woodland in the Carmina Burana is not exactly realistic.  It is not the German forest that will appear, three hundred years later, in the first independent landscapes painted by artists like Altdorfer and Huber.  Nor is it remotely like the detailed scenes that appear in the margins of high-quality fifteenth century illuminated manuscripts, and which resemble those wonderful views seen through windows in contemporary Northern Renaissance portraits.  This illustration was conceived at a time when no landscapes as such were being painted in the West.  Now, as I insert a reference to the Carmina Burana into my international landscape and culture chronology, I can't help wondering what its illuminator would have made of a Southern Song Dynasty scroll painting...

Clearly the scene depicted in this manuscript is not even a naive attempt at topography.  As de Hamel points out, 'the inclusion here of a lion is much more appropriate for the Garden of Eden than for a familiar spring day in the German woods.'  Those strange, luxuriant trees look primeval.  In the top section we see birds which, according to Genesis, appeared on the fifth day of Creation, and in the bottom half are the animals that arrived a day later.  This is not then the setting for a bawdy German love song.  It is a medieval vision of the original landscape, created by God.

Friday, July 14, 2017

View of the Garden of the Villa Medici

 Diego Velázquez, View of the Garden of the Villa Medici, c. 1630
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the course of her fascinating book on Velázquez, The Vanishing Man, published last year, Laura Cumming writes about 'a picture without precedent.'  The View of the Garden of the Villa Medici 'seems to have no pretext, no definitive narrative or focus.  A fragmentary glimpse, strikingly modern in its random observations, it is simply itself - the momentary scene.'  Velázquez was in Rome in 1630 and knew Poussin and Claude, who were painting their great classical landscapes at this time.  But 'to depict nature purely for itself, live and unadorned - in its natural state, as it were - was very much the innovation of Velázquez.'  Cumming sees nothing similar in art before Corot, 'whose silvery landscapes with their secretive air have a genetic link back to Velázquez'.  But is it really the case that Velázquez was so ahead of his time?  

Albrecht Altdorfer, Landscape with Footbridge, 1516
Source: Wikimedia Commons
 
In Western art, earlier 'independent' landscape paintings, going back to Albrecht Altdorfer, do not have the air of real places seen at real moments.  There are plein air sketches that have this quality, but they do not resemble the Velázquez eitherClaude made such studies in the Roman Campagna and the example below is by another contemporary, Van Dyck, who was court painter to Charles I while Velázquez worked for Philip IV of Spain (The Vanishing Man is about a portrait of the young Charles that was apparently painted by Velázquez, or possibly by Van Dyck, or maybe neither...)  The View of the Garden of the Villa Medici is different, more reminiscent of certain oil sketches made in the late eighteenth century (the cloth on the balcony is like the washing hung out on Thomas Jones' A Wall in Naples).  It could have been a sketch of this kind, but the Prado's curators (quoting Javier Portús) say that it is currently considered to be a finished, self-sufficient work.

Anthony van Dyck, An English Landscape, c. 1635
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Laura Cumming describes The Vanishing Man as 'a book of praise for Velázquez, greatest of painters.'  She writes effusively about the brilliant and subtle ways he found to apply paint to canvas.  In the View of the Garden of the Villa Medici, which is relatively small (48.5 x 43 cm), she notices something remarkable.
'The weave of the cloth is exactly the right size to imitate the pattern of bricks at that distance.  This is one of Velázquez's unimaginably subtle calculations.  How could he guess in advance, or did it come to him as he painted?  This is a great question with his art: what grows out of what, how it all evolves at leisure, or at speed, by chance or design.  But what one sees here is something akin to precision engineering, in terms of vision and judgement: each brick finds its tiny outline in the grid of threads.'
   Diego Velázquez, View of the Garden of the Villa Medici [detail], c. 1630
Source: Prado

Perhaps surprisingly, Cumming makes no mention of the fact that this painting of the Villa Medici has a companion piece, also in the Prado: a view of the same structure seen from a different angle, but with more prominent foreground figures.  It is a marvellously strange, enigmatic image; in the background a man looks out at the distant view, like a Romantic Rückenfigur, and beside him the statue of sleeping Ariadne foreshadows the sequence of mysterious Ariadne paintings de Chirico painted in 1912-13.  There might originally have been two more of these paintings.  It may be that what we have now 'are two of the four little landscapes that the artist sold to Phillip IV in 1634' (Portús).  The disappearance and reappearance of artworks is central to The Vanishing Man and now, after having read it, I can't help wondering about the possibility of other Velázquez landscapes one day coming to light.

Diego Velázquez, View of the Garden of the Villa Medici, with the statue of Ariadne, c. 1630
Source: Prado

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Igualada Cemetery


Commenting yesterday on my post about the Stockholm Woodland Cemetery, Ken Worpole, author of Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West, mentioned his high regard for the modern cemetery at Igualada in Spain.  Ken has also kindly sent me three photographs which I have included here (an ArchDaily article on Igualada has more images, including some taken after a snowfall).  Enric Miralles designed the cemetery with his partner Carme Pinòs in 1984 and it was constructed over the following decade.  In Britain, Miralles is best known for the Scottish Parliament Building which was completed after his early death in 2000 (he is buried at Igualada). Writing last year in The Architectural Review, Ken notes that Igualada 'is in harsh rocky terrain punctuated by quarries' and so the architects made use of this in their design, incorporating rusting steel, old railway sleepers, quarried stone.  The result is somewhere that 'possesses a profound spiritual presence within its severe landscape: serious and purposeful without being in any way morbid.'


I have not visited Igualada myself (though we weren't that far away a couple of summers ago).  I will therefore quote here some impressions by two British architects, Joe Morris and Mary Duggan, interviewed in Building Design.
'The work is like no other we had come across. It is an architecture of the land, a work which choreographs the geological and sculptural qualities of the landscape; an architecture of topography. The narrative, one in which the living are brought downwards into a city of the dead, is potent and creates an eerie but contemplative series of spaces. 
'The palette of materials speaks of the site. It is reduced to materials which over time will express the ravages of time and weather and are intended to be subsumed by the landscape within which they sit. Concrete, granite, Corten, each material is selected for the visceral illustration of its origin, forged or excavated from the earth, and slowly returning to the landscape.'

And to conclude, from a lengthier more theoretical article by Tom Bliska, here is another reflection on the way the architects worked with space and time:
'Miralles and Pinos are serving as “exegetes of the landscape,” drawing from the site’s history and local landform precedents to create a space that is itself a program. Every cemetery has an explicit connection to the past, in the sense of a distorted reflection of the city that produced it, but Miralles and Pinos are specific in creating traces of the past through articulation of fragments, frameworks, and the path one takes through them. The long walk down to the mausoleum plaza at the low point of the site is filled with the “immediate and imperfect”: rough aggregate ground surface, violently skewed steel markers, indeterminate edges between precast concrete and gabion wall. It is this layering that builds the narrative quality of the space, boundaries that shift with movement and tactility to present an abstracted history of the site itself as process. In this way, Igualada cemetery can be read as a chronotopia, a space where fragments of the past are either exposed or rearticulated didactically to express the meaning of the site’s current form.'

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Skogskyrkogården, the Woodland Cemetery


I was in Stockholm for a meeting in May and took the opportunity to visit Skogskyrkogården, the famous Woodland Cemetery which in 1994 became only the second location developed in the twentieth century to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It was late on Sunday afternoon when I got there - the visitor centre was shut but I had the place almost to myself.  A couple of other tourists, one person tending a grave, a solitary jogger (they are everywhere).  I took a short video clip on my phone (below) which gives a sense of how peaceful it was, though you could never escape the low background rumble of traffic.  I'm not sure how many deer there are in these woods; another one emerged from behind these graves just after I stopped filming.  They were watchful but not fearful.  It did not seem that surprising to find them there - even here in London when you step into a graveyard like Abney Park Cemetery, near my home in Stoke Newington, you become aware that you are among squirrels, birds and butterflies.


Skogskyrkogården was conceived jointly by architects by Gunnar Asplund (1885-1940) and Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975), who won a competition in 1915 to design a new cemetery on the site of an old quarry.  In addition to the landscape, they designed distinctive buildings - a classical Resurrection Chapel positioned at the end of a long tree-lined path, an intimate Woodland Chapel amid the pines, and a graceful and a functionalist crematorium.  From this crematorium you look across a pond towards a bare slope on the summit of which is a group of trees.  On my visit this meditation grove was a dark silhouette against a white sky which would soon be filling Stockholm with unseasonable snow.  But you can see the trees in full leaf on the cover of Ken Worpole's fascinating book, Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West (2003).  From the vantage point of this photograph (by Larraine Worpole), the foreground is dominated by Asplund's stark granite cross, inspired by Caspar David Friedrich.


Caspar David Friedrich, Cross on the Baltic Sea, 1815
Source: Wikimedia Commons

On the occasions I have visited graveyards over the years, there has usually been at least one prominent memorial I've been keen to find - Ezra Pound at San Michele near Venice, Alejo Carpentier in Havana's Colon Cemetery, Karl Marx at Highgate, dozens of culture heroes at Père Lachaise...  Wandering around the Stockholm Woodland Cemetery it was something of a relief just to be experiencing the landscape, without looking for anybody famous.  Nevertheless, I did come upon the grave of Greta Garbo, whose family chose this for her because it was 'a long way from the hustle and bustle of the world'.  There is no eye-catching monument to the great movie star, but neither is it the case that she is simply buried in an egalitarian spirit along with all the others.  Her headstone stands isolated against the trees -  fittingly perhaps for someone famous for saying "I just want to be alone".  It seems to have the makings of a shrine: a path has been laid to it and, as you can see below, trees are being planted in a semi circle to form a kind of special enclosed space.    


There are no film stars buried in Abney Park Cemetery, though you can find a famous nineteenth century music hall artist, George Leybourne, the original 'Champagne Charlie' - a fact mentioned in Last Landscapes (Ken lives near me in Stoke Newington).  I would agree with Ken that despite the efforts of the Abney Park Trust, it is still in parts 'a forlorn, tangled forest', very different from the woods of Skogskyrkogården.  Originally the early Victorian London cemeteries were designed as Gardenesque landscapes - John Claudius Loudon published an influential book on the subject in 1843.  Abney Park Cemetery Originally (which opened in 1840) was designed as an arboretum and became a kind of tourist attraction like Kew Gardens.  As the population grew it rapidly filled up, but perhaps in its early days it would have had something of the atmosphere of a woodland cemetery.  Today they are very different: as Ken says, the Stockholm Woodland Cemetery gives the impression when you enter it of 'a vast rolling landscape, with deep forest beyond', yet you quickly come upon intimate, peaceful spaces for tranquil reflection.  It is, he concludes, 'the most successful example of large-scale landscape design in the twentieth century.'

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Gardens of Fontainebleau

Narcisse Virgilio Díaz, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1868
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Forest of Fontainebleau has a special place in the history of western landscape art: painted repeatedly by the Barbizon School and the Impressionists who took inspiration from them.  That there is still a forest to explore is down in part to Théodore Rousseau: he 'appealed to Napoleon III to halt the wholesale destruction of the forest’s trees, and in 1853 the emperor established a preserve to protect the artists’ cherished giant oaks' (see the Met's online essay on the Barbizon School).  We were in Fontainebleau on that fiercely hot weekend earlier this month and I yearned to head into the forest to find some of that deep shade painted by Rousseau's friend Narcisse Virgilio Díaz.  But we'd come for culture rather than nature, to visit the Château de Fontainebleau.  Emerging from its opulent rooms in the full heat of the afternoon we made our way across the Grand Parterre, with its low hedges and topiary cones stretching into the distance.  This flat, mathematical space, planned out by André Le Nôtre and Louis Le Vau, is as different a landscape as can be imagined from the dense wooded slopes and tenebrous clearings explored by the Barbizon painters.  Strange then to find at its centre, beneath the surface of a square ornamental pool, a miniature forest, swaying gently in the cool, clear water. 
 

Before the Barbizon School there was the School of Fontainebleau, two schools in fact, the first comprising artists brought to decorate the palace during the sixteenth century (including Benvenuto Cellini, who describes the work in his wonderfully vivid Autobiography), the second at the beginning of the seventeenth during one of the phases of renovation and redecoration that continued down to Napoleon's time.  These Mannerist artists were much more interested in mythological figures and allegorical references than in anything to do with landscape, as can be seen in the print below, where a rocky scene is completely dominated by its framing figures. There are numerous references to hunting in their decorative schemes: the forest as resource for the king's pleasure.  The Palace contains a Gallery of Diana and a Gallery of Stags.  There is also a Jardin de Diane, with a fountain dating from the early nineteenth century dedicated to the goddess; its water comes from the mouths of stags and, as my son's were quick to point out, four "pissing dogs". 

Antonio Fantuzzi, Cartouche with male and female satyrs
carrying baskets and flanking a rocky landscape, 1543
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 
Tommaso Francini, The Château and Gardens, early 17th century
 Source: Wikimedia Commons
  
One of the Valois Tapestries, showing a festival on the lake at Fontainebleau, 
made shortly after 1580.

The Carp Lake visible in the seventeenth century plan shown above is still there (as are the carp).  The photograph of it below was taken from a rowing boat that I was pressed into hiring.  The lake at Fontainebleau can also be seen in one of the Valois Tapestries, made to commemorate eight of Catherine de' Medici's famous court festivals.  This one took place in 1564 and was just one event in the royal progress that took her and her son, the new king, two and a half years to complete.  The household accompanying them included her 'flying squadron' (L'escadron volant) of eighty seductive ladies-in-waiting, and nine dwarfs who travelled in their own miniature coaches.  The great poet Pierre de Ronsard was present at Fontainebleau, where there were feasts, jousts, sirens singing, Neptune floating in his chariot and an attack on an enchanted island.  I wonder how many of them thought about the real forest beyond the Château as they acted out imaginary battles in an artificial landscape.  A century later the island in the lake was given a small pavilion; later it was restored by Napoleon.  We were warned as we climbed into the boat not to row too close it, although I don't think our inept collective efforts at steering could have got us there anyway.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Pink and White Terraces

Charles Blomfield, Pink Terraces, 1886
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month news came in that the lost terraces of Lake Rotomahana had been discovered.  The Pink Terrace (Te Otukapuarangi - 'the fountain of the clouded sky') and the White Terrace (Te Tarata - 'the tattooed rock') were three quarters of a mile apart, each a descending sequence of pools formed by silica in the water that welled up from geothermal springs.  Having first been described by a European traveller in the early 1840s, they become a major tourist attraction for visitors to New Zealand; but in 1886, following an eruption of Mount Tarawera, they disappeared.  Two researchers now think the terraces may lie preserved under mud and ash and are assembling a “team of the willing” to explore the site.  However, in its report The Guardian cautions that another team thought they had found the terraces in 2011, and only last year GNS Science New Zealand concluded that most of them had been destroyed.

 Charles Blomfield, White Terraces, Rotomahana, 1903
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some photographs were taken of the terraces (see below), but our main idea of what they looked like comes from the paintings of Charles Blomfield (1848-1926).  He began making landscape views in the North Island in the 1870s and the sketches he made of the Pink and White Terraces were source material for paintings long after the landscape had been buried.  Contemporary travel writers felt the inadequacy of words to convey the form and colours of what was before them.  In The Australian Abroad (1879) James Hingston was unequal to the task of describing Te Tarata: 'we had better stop until we get the shade of J. M. W. Turner, that great painter of the mystic, to assist us.'  However, as Lydia Wevers says in Country of Writing: Travel Writing and New Zealand, 'like many travel writers who apostrophise the indescribability of the terraces, Hingston proceeds to describe them for several paragraphs.'

Charles Spencer, Hot Water Cups, White Terrace, 1880
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1877 the prolific travel writer and painter Constance Gordon-Cumming visited Lake Rotomahana (her account can be read in Chapter XXV of At Home in Fiji).  The White Terraces were 'in nature what the Taj Mahal at Agra is in architecture, — a thing indescribable — a fairy city of lace carved in pure marble, — a thousand waterfalls suddenly frozen and fringed with icicles.'  The next day she took in Te Otukapuarangi and 'got a large very careful drawing from the ridge overlooking these terraces, with our tent and the white terraces on the other side of the lake.'  Lydia Wevers criticises the proprietorial birds-eye view Gordon-Cumming adopted in her sketches and the very Victorian attitude of colonial entitlement evident in her writing.  After painting the landscape she got into a dispute over whether a payment should be made to the local Maori (they had been asking £5 for a photograph and thought paintings would warrant a higher fee).

The Pink Terrace, New Zealand 
from Oceana, or England and her Colonies by James Anthony Froude (1886)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before this unpleasantness over money occurred, Constance Gordon-Cumming had been relaxing in the waters of the Pink Terraces.  You can see from a description like this why people would be motivated to try to find them again, though surely their original magic would be unrecoverable:
'Rock and water are alike smooth and warm and pleasant, and you can prolong the delight of the bath to any extent, passing from one pool to another, sometimes receiving a gentle shower as the sparkling drops trickle from the overhanging rim of a pool, perhaps eight or ten feet above you, or else lying still in passive enjoyment, and watching the changing lights that flit across lake and hill, and all the time the kindly water is coating you with a thin film of that silica which makes the bath so smooth and the bather so silky'
I will conclude here with another description of this experience from perhaps the most famous visitor to the terraces, Anthony Trollope.  He was there in 1873 and remarked on the shell-like appearance of these natural pools, in which 'four or five may sport ... each without feeling the presence of the other.'
'In the bath, when you strike your chest against it, it is soft to the touch. You press yourself against it, and it is smooth. You lie upon it, and though it is firm, it gives to you. You plunge against the sides, driving the water over your body, but you do not bruise yourself. ... I have never heard of other bathing like this in the world.'

Charles Blomfield, White Terraces, Rotomahana, 1897
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Great Forest

Jacob van Ruisdael, The Great Forest, 1655-60

Peter Handke's text The Lesson of Mont Sainte-Victoire (1980) unsurprisingly focuses on Cézanne and the landscape of Provence, but it ends with a painting by Ruisdael, The Great Forest, which can be seen in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, and a detailed description of a walk to an unregarded stretch of woodland on the outskirts of Salzburg.  As Handke points out, the title of Ruisdael's painting may simply refer to its size (1800 x 1390cm) rather than the scale of the forest it depicts, which at first sight hardly appears 'great'.  Then again, perhaps in this picture we are only at the beginning of the forest.  The wayfarer may simply have 'turned to cast a look before going deeper into the woods.  The feeling of spaciousness is further intensified by a peculiarity of seventeenth-century Dutch landscapes: for all the minuteness of their forms, they nevertheless, with their patches of water, their roads over dunes, their dark woods (under spacious skies), begin to grow as one beholds them' (trans. Ralph Manheim).

The woodland Handke walks to from Salzberg is also nothing like a great forest, 'yet it is wonderfully real'.  Few in Salzberg know of this space, lying between the city and the castle of Hellbrunn: 'here there are only logging roads and irregular paths, and you seldom see a walker; at the most you may hear a jogger's panting and see the skin of this face, mask replacing mask, change from dead to alive and back again at every step.'  Handke's description of the forest is as detailed as Ruisdael's and as attentive to light and colour.  Trying to follow his route on Google Earth (see my aerial view of the woodland below) only emphasises the unreality of that medium as it currently stands and its inadequacy in comparison with Handke's prose.  But this is not an idyllic landscape isolated from the surrounding suburbs.  At the end of his walk, Handke stands looking at polystyrene floating on a pond and a woodpile covered in plastic tarp.  We know from earlier in the book that a woodpile has complex associations for Handke and here in the woods it stimulates a kind of epiphany, a brief Tree of Life-style cosmic reverie.  The forest opens onto a vast spaciousness that encompasses both space and time.  Then it is over and he takes a deep breath and sets off back along the path to return to the city.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Pure light flooding the rock walls

There is a new article on China and its rivers in Lapham's Quarterly by Philip Ball, author of The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China.  He says that Chinese culture is orientated along the course of its rivers, West-East, from the mountains of Tibet to the Pacific Ocean.  The sources of its two greatest waterways, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, were debated for centuries.  The Ming Dynasty writer Xu Xiake (Hsü Hsia-k'o, 1587–1641) thought the Yangtze had its ultimate origin on the Qinghai plateau.  Nobody, Ball thinks, 'better personifies the Chinese devotion to its great rivers' than the inveterate traveller Xu Xiake.  According to a contemporary he 'used towering crags for his bed, streams and gullies for refreshment, and found companionship among fairies, trolls, apes, and baboons, with the result that he became unable to think logically and could not speak. However, as soon as we discussed mountain paths, investigated water sources or sought out superior geographical terrain, his mind suddenly became clear again.'

Xu Xiake 400th anniversary stamps

In Richard E. Strassberg's anthology of Chinese travel writing Inscribed Landscapes there are two extracts from the Diaries Xu put together at the end of each day.  In the first, written in May 1613, he visits Tiantai Mountain, where the famous Tang Dynasty poet Hanshan and his companion Shide lived in retreat.  I have written here before about a more recent attempt to find the geographical source of Hanshan's poetry - perhaps there's a parallel with the search for the source of a great river.  Xu died before his writing could be polished up for publication, so the Diaries retain the freshness of direct observation.  According to Strassberg 'his descriptions include visionary perceptions of Nature as an ever-fascinating texture of interacting phenomena.  He incorporates lyric responses to the environment in short, poetic phrases'.  Here is a brief example (published online) from the journey to Tiantai Mountain. 
'Outside the cave were two crags to the left, both located halfway up the cliffs. On the right was a rock shaped like a bamboo shoot jutting upward. Its top was even with one of the cliffs and separated from it by no more than a hairline. Green pines and purple flowers flourished on top. It complements perfectly the crags to the left—it could certainly be called a marvel. Exited through Eight-Inch Pass, climbed up another crag, also on the left. I looked up at it as I approached and it resembled a cleft, but when I reached the top it was spacious enough to hold several hundred people. There was a well in the middle named "Transcendent's Well"—shallow and yet inexhaustible. Beyond the crag was a particularly unusual rock several tens of feet high with a forked top resembling two men. The monk described it as "Han-shan and Shih-te." Stopped at the monastery there. After a meal, the clouds dispersed and the new moon appeared in the sky. I stood on the summit of this undulating cliff and watched the pure light flood the rock walls.'
 
Dai Benxiao, The Strange Pines of Tiantai, 1687
Source: The Met

Xiake means 'mistlike traveler'.  According to the World of Chinese website, 'Xu Xiake is worshipped as the father of Chinese backpacking, and several of the routes he traversed some 400 years ago remain in use today.'  A couple of years ago Tony Perrottet retraced one of his routes for an interesting travel article in The Smithsonian.  I'll end here with a quote from this, but the whole piece is worth reading.  
'Traveling into the remoter regions of Yunnan is still a challenge. Squeezed into tiny bus seats on bone-jarring cliff highways and bartering for noodles in roadside stalls, I began to realize that few in the Chinese government can have actually read Xu Xiake’s diary. Despite his devotion to travel, he is an ambiguous poster boy for its pleasures, and as his diary attests, he suffered almost every mishap imaginable on his Yunnan journey.
He was robbed three times, contracted mysterious diseases and was lost and swindled. After one hapless mountain guide led him in circles, Xu questioned the whole effort: “I realized this was the most inauspiciously timed of a lifetime’s travels.” On another occasion, while waiting for funds after a theft, he became so broke he sold his clothes to buy food. He once recited poetry in exchange for mushrooms.

Sadly, Xu’s traveling companion, a monk named Jingwen, fell ill with dysentery on the road and died. He was an eccentric character who apparently carried a copy of the Lotus Sutra written in his own blood, but he was devoted to Xu, becoming injured while defending him from a violent robbery. Xu, devastated, decided to bury his friend’s remains at the ostensible goal of the journey, a sacred peak called Jizu Shan, which is now almost entirely forgotten by travelers. I decided to follow his footsteps there, too. [...]  The site felt like a poignant memorial to Xu Xiake himself. When he buried his friend here in 1638, Xu was uncharacteristically weary of travel. “Now with (my) soul broken at the end of the world,” he mourned, “I can only look alone.”

Friday, June 02, 2017

The ruins of Karnak

Paul Nash, The Wanderer (detail), 1911
Source: British Museum

The British Museum currently has an exhibition of British landscape watercolours which focuses on the period 1850-1950, the century after the Golden Age.  It includes familiar names that I have often featured here - Samuel Palmer, John Ruskin, James McNeill Whistler, Paul Nash (see above). There are also landscapes by artists more usually associated with other genres - John Singer Sargent (society portraits), Anna Airy (war workers), Hubert von Herkomer (depictions of the poor).  And there are the somewhat forgettable Victorian artists with their double names - Alfred William Hunt, George Pryce Boyce, Edward John Poynter - whose picturesque views are painted beautifully but don't stick in the mind very long.  One of the things you realise from this show is how many now-rather-obscure artists were renowned at the time and made a fortune from their paintings.  I made a note of one nice winter scene by William Russell Flint, who you would be forgiven for not having heard of, even though he was knighted in 1947 (according to Wikipedia he 'enjoyed considerable commercial success but little respect from art critics, who were disturbed by a perceived crassness in his eroticized treatment of the female figure.') 

William Russell Flint quote (after Thomas à Kempis) from 1924,
on display at the Places of the mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850–1950

The British Museum has been collecting watercolours for a long time - the exhibition includes one painting by Francis Towne that was part of his bequest in 1816.  Some parts of its collection have never been seen publicly before, including one work by an artist about whom very little is now known, Henry Stanier.  According to the Guardian, 'the long-awaited public showing comes 113 or so years after the death of the artist' (who was waiting for it they don't say - perhaps we all were, without knowing it).  Kim Sloan, this exhibition's curator 'discovered the huge watercolour in an obscure corner of the museum more than 10 years ago, when she was looking for the original frames for some Turner watercolours.  To her astonishment she found not just empty frames, but three paintings by Stanier, an artist she had never heard of. They appear to have been stashed away in the 1950s without ever being recorded in the museum’s collection.'  The unearthing of this view of the temple complex at Karnak sunds almost like an act of archaeology.  Karnak itself continues to yield new finds a century after Stanier was there and you wonder how much else there is to find in the recesses of the British Museum.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Gibberd Garden


We made a trip this week to see Sir Frederick Gibberd's garden, created between 1957 and 1984, and located just outside Harlow, the New Town for which he was chief architect.  Gibberd's best known design is probably Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (aka 'Paddy's Wigwam'), a building I've always rather liked although Gibberd himself was sued for £1.3m over leaks and defects in the tiling (which have had to be replaced).  He was also involved in some key post-War industrial buildings - the original Heathrow Terminal buildings, the recently-demolished Didcot A Power Station - and a few of his garden's metal and concrete sculptures and salvaged objects have the look of once-futuristic constructions that have seen better days.  As a private collector Gibberd wouldn't have had resources to buy sculptures by world-renowned artists, although there is a piece by David Nash (see below).  Nor can the artworks compete with those made by practising artists like Barbara Hepworth and Ian Hamilton Finlay for their own gardens.  But Gibberd, as a planner and landscape architect, made good use of the site, turning the hillside and stream into a sequence of spaces with some sculptures set to catch the eye and others that you almost stumble upon.


There is an article about Gibberd by his grandson that praises the moated castle he built for his grandchildren in one corner of the site using recycled pieces of wood - my sons certainly enjoyed this too.  The garden feature we liked best was also recycled - two mossy Corinthian columns shaded by trees with real acanthus growing at their base to echo the stone foliage above.  This 'temple' fragment could almost have come from that erotic Renaissance idyll, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili; in fact the pillars were designed in 1831 by John Nash for a commercial building on The Strand in London, and salvaged by Gibberd when his firm redesigned it in the 1970s for Coutts Bank.  I am sure they are more appreciated in this garden among the trees than they would be on what is now the eighteenth most polluted street in Britain.


The garden must have been a pleasant place to relax in, but whether it was possible to enjoy it as a classical retreat or hortus conclusus I rather doubt.  I tried to record a chaffinch singing over the bright sound of water in the brook but by the time I had my phone out all you could hear was the slow rumble of an aeroplane flying overhead.  The embankment at the end of the garden carries a busy train line into Harlow.  Sculptures are largely absent from the adjacent arboretum, making all the more noticeable some overhead wires crossing the space above and a line of warning signs (see above) marking the presence of a gas pipeline under the grass.  You suspect though that Gibberd would not really have minded all these reminders that the garden is not separated off from the modern world he was so active in designing

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trees that in moving keep their intervals

A constant keeping-past of shaken trees,
And a bewildered glitter of loose road;
Banks of bright growth, with single blades atop
Against white sky; and wires—a constant chain—
That seem to draw the clouds along with them
(Things which one stoops against the light to see
Through the low window; shaking by at rest,
Or fierce like water as the swiftness grows);
And, seen through fences or a bridge far off,
Trees that in moving keep their intervals
Still one 'twixt bar and bar; and then at times
Long reaches of green level, where one cow,
Feeding among her fellows that feed on,
Lifts her slow neck, and gazes for the sound.
These lines describe a train journey from London to Folkestone on 27 September 1849.  It was the end of a decade of remarkable expansion, when railways had developed from isolated lines to a national network, and the novelty of moving at speed through the countryside is evident in this poetry.  Ironically though, the writer - twenty-one-year-old Dante Gabriel Rossetti - was heading into the past, to see the medieval architecture and paintings of Paris, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp.  He was accompanied on the trip by William Holman Hunt and addressed his verse letters home to the recently formed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.   Among these are poems inspired by the places they visited - Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Field of Waterloo etc. - but they are interspersed by accounts of the journey itself and the embodied experience of moving through landscape.  Rossetti, as a painter, was also fascinated by the way the carriage windows framed what was visible, and how the railway line itself recomposed its surroundings.  The reference in the lines above to wires and clouds reminds me of what I wrote here last week about Fog Lines.  I will reproduce a few more examples of this landscape-in-motion poetry here.  The full set of poem can be read at the Rossetti Archive.

Having reached Folkestone and sailed the 'the iron-coloured sea' to Boulogne, the travellers took a train to Amiens and thence to Paris.
The sea has left us, but the sun remains.
Sometimes the country spreads aloof in tracts
Smooth from the harvest; sometimes sky and land
Are shut from the square space the window leaves
By a dense crowd of trees, stem behind stem
Passing across each other as we pass:
Sometimes tall poplar-wands stand white, their heads
Outmeasuring the distant hills.
From Paris they made an excursion by train to Versailles.
The wind has ceased, or is a feeble breeze
Warm in the sun. The leaves are not yet dry
From yesterday's dense rain. All, low and high,
A strong green country; but, among its trees,
Ruddy and thin with Autumn. After these
There is the city still before the sky.
Versailles is reached. Pass we the galleries
And seek the gardens...
At the end of their stay in Paris, they took the train to Belgium.  Rossetti struggled to sleep (insomnia would plague him in later life) and there were several stops at stations where he looked in some wonder at the train itself.  'The mist of crimson heat / Hangs, a spread glare, about our engine's bulk.'  The landscape they passed on this journey was anything but picturesque. 
A sky too dull for cloud. A country lain
In fields, where teams drag up the furrow yet;
Or else a level of trees, the furthest ones
Seen like faint clouds at the horizon's point.
Quite a clear distance, though in vapour. Mills
That turn with the dry wind. Large stacks of hay
Made to look bleak. Dead autumn, and no sun.

The smoke upon our course is borne so near
Along the earth, the earth appears to steam.
Blanc-Misseron, the last French station, passed.
We are in Belgium.

J. M. W. Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, 1844
 
From Brussels they travelled to the old cities of Flanders.  In Bruges Rossetti felt himself close to Van Eyck and Memling, listening to the same bells that had rung through the city when they were at work in the fifteenth century (perhaps he was thinking of the passage in Victor Hugo that I quoted earlier this month?)  I will end this selection of quotations with lines that refer to the title of Turner's famous painting, first exhibited five years earlier.  Writing recently in the LRB, Inigo Thomas says that John Ruskin, the great champion of the Pre-Raphaelites, 'never wrote a word about Rain, Steam and Speed, and he was never convinced that any train, or any idea of the ‘scientific people’, as he scornfully described them, was worthy of artistic representation.'  In 1849 Ruskin was yet to meet Rossetti and you wonder what he would have made of these railway journey poems.  They were only published decades later, two years after Rossetti's death, and given by his brother the rather prosaic title, 'A Trip to Paris and Belgium'.
The country swims with motion. Time itself
Is consciously beside us, and perceived.
Our speed is such the sparks our engine leaves
Are burning after the whole train has passed.

The darkness is a tumult. We tear on,
The roll behind us and the cry before,
Constantly, in a lull of intense speed
And thunder. Any other sound is known
Merely by sight. The shrubs, the trees your eye
Scans for their growth, are far along in haze.
The sky has lost its clouds, and lies away
Oppressively at calm: the moon has failed:
Our speed has set the wind against us. Now
Our engine's heat is fiercer, and flings up
Great glares alongside. Wind and steam and speed
And clamour and the night. We are in Ghent.