“stubborn tiny lights vs. clustering darkness forever ok?” // J.M.W. Turner

 

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge. Really. You need to see this one up close.

 

 

“You have to carry the fire.”

I don’t know how to.”

Yes, you do.”

Is the fire real? The fire?”

Yes it is.”

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

– Cormac McCarthy, The Road

 

 

 

 

Turner is one of my favorite painters, so I was excited to discover that the Yale Center for British Art has a room dedicated to his work. The collection ranges from his early almost-crystalline paintings to his mature style. “Staffa, Fingal’s Cave” is among these later paintings, and I was struck when I saw it hanging on the wall, having never come across it in books or online. At first glance, it looks typical of Turner: a nautical scene, a pending storm, wrapped in haze.

 

 

 

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” – Cormac McCarthy, The Road

 

 

 

The steamer is leaving the light and seeming security of the island, heading into darkness. The sun is before it, but it is setting. Readers of this blog are largely on board with the idea of confronting the unknown. But here’s where Turner’s genius shines through: with the smallest gesture of his brush, he calls us deeper into darkness.

 

 

 

Turner4
 

The absence of light is its own stubborn light –

no light is a light,

no light is the true light,

and there is no light so there is a light so there is no light so there is a light!

Though we’ve been denied too much hope in our lives

let tonight be the night when it ends.

-Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, There Is A Light

 

 

 

In the darkest part of the canvas, and with the slightest bit of  paint, Turner keeps the fire burning. Hot coals radiate from within the steamer. This is not the fire of optimism: many of Turner’s finest paintings prominently feature shipwrecks. But it is a fire, burning hidden, carried across the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

The clip below is a high-quality live performance of “There Is A Light”.

Hang on darlin’
Chant aloud
This boy’s lost his thunder
Amongst the dirty clouds

Dull white starlite,
pale as the morning falls away.

The devil each dawn,
and flat greys upon,
we’re torn asunder neath his gaze.

So c’mon ye children,
if there’s one thing we know,
it’s that them gathering clouds are swinging low.

So don’t you be precious,
man don’t you be meek,
there ain’t no damn glory in the long retreat.

Go call the fuzz,
they’ll shine their lights on us,
we’ve been building in the dark,
there’s so many of us.

Now blinking in the light,
there’s so many of us.

Illuminated and proud,
there’s so many of us.

But there ain’t no truth but the no truth but the not truth, yeah!
Ain’t no thing but the nothing but the nothing, yeah!
Ain’t no fall but the long fall is a long fall, yeah!
And there ain’t no light but the true light is a dim light, yeah!

But I’ve been waiting and longing for that light to fall all over me.

6 and 6 parsons and he doth proclaim that the best little bits of us misfits and strays
make a light in the night that needs to be shamed,
all for some none for all,
and all fallen the same.

And we surrender the stage to those pale horse riders.

Go forth, man
Get down,
With a mighty fist and a retarded crown,
do the one-step the two-step,
Sweet jubilee!
And show me the light, goddamn!

And lay me down in a bed full of rain.

Yeah shit is bleak – we’ve seen it and worried,
our timid leaps get knee-deep and buried,
entire weeks where I swear I can barely rise.

Electrical fits,
tantrums and prayers,
pride un-does what mercy repairs,
the pits of this,
toss a match to it and start again.

The absence of light is its own stubborn light – no light is a light,
no light is the true light,
and there is no light so there is a light so there is no light so there is a light!

Though we’ve been denied too much hope in our lives
let tonight be the night when it ends.

Tell me there is a light!
There is a light!

There!
Is!
A!
Light!