Sunday, June 17, 2007

Somewhere near Allonville

Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917 
Paul Nash, Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917

An interesting article in the LRB a few weeks ago by Brian Dillon included a quote from Paul Nash describing the strange beauty of no-man's land: 'The mud is dried to a pinky colour and and upon the parapet, and through sandbags even, the green grass pushes up and waves in the breeze, while clots of bright dandelions, clover, thistles and twenty other plants flourish luxuriantly, brilliant growths of bright green against the pink earth.' Dillon was reviewing Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime, by Kenneth Helphand, which discusses the attempts of soldiers and prisoners to find ways of cultivating small patches of beauty, or catching a glimpse of a better world, like the 'pair of Australians lounging in a meadow picking wildflowers, somewhere near Allonville. The image is purest pastoral: an aesthetic that flourished in soldiers' presentations of themselves to the camera, or to their own journals.'

There is more on this book at the National Public Radio site, including a photograph of a Japanese stone garden made at the Manzanar Internment Camp in California.

 Photographs are now on Wikimedia Commons, this by Davefoc.

Towards the end of his life, during the Second World War, Paul Nash again saw flowers, this time in the air.  In his posthumously published essay Aerial Flowers he wrote

'When the war came, suddenly the sky was upon us all like a huge hawk, hovering, threatening. Everyone was searching the sky, expecting the terror to fall: I among them scanned the low clouds … hunting the sky for what I most dreaded in my imagining. It was a white flower. Ever since the Spanish Civil War the idea of the Rose of Death, the name the Spaniards gave to the parachute, had haunted my mind, so that when the war overtook us I strained my eyes always to see that dreadful miracle of the sky blossoming with these floating flowers.'

Paul Nash, Flight of the Magnolia, 1944
Source: Tate Gallery - public domain (image added 2017)

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