Art and Artists

Meditations on Landscape & The Infinite

Some Meditations on Landscape & The Infinite…
Tartar Steppe, leftTartar Steppe, right

From Leopardi:

“…at times the spirit…desires a view which is in certain ways restricted and confined… The reason is …the desire for the infinite, because in those circumstances the imagination goes to work instead of the eyesight, and fantasy takes the place of what is real.  the spirit imagines for itself what it cannot see, what that tree, that hedge, that tower hides from it, and goes wandering in an imaginary space, and pictures things it would not be able to if its sight extended everywhere, because the real would exclude the imaginary.  Hence the pleasure which I always used to experience as a child, and do even now, in seeing the sky etc. through a window, a doorway…”  (Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone p. 175, tran. in The Canti by J.G. Nichols)

“Concerning the impressions which please solely on account of their indefiniteness, you can see my idyll on the infinite, and recall the notions of a stretch of countryside which slopes down so steeply that from a certain distance the sight does not extend to the valley; and the notion of a row of trees, whose end is out of sight, either because of the link of the row, or because it is also placed on a declevity etc. etc. etc.  A factory a tower etc. seen in such a way that it seems to rise alone above the horizon, and the horizon is not seen, produces a most effective and sublime contrast between the finite and the indefinite etc. etc. etc. (Zibaldone 1430-1)

The Infinite

I always did value this lonely hill,
And this hedgerow also, where so wide a stretch
Of the extreme horizon’s out of sight.
But sitting here and gazing, I find that endless
Spaces beyond that hedge, and more-than-human
Silences, and the deepest peace and quiet
Are fashioned in my thought; so much that almost
My heart fills up with fear. And as I hear
The wind rustle among the leaves, I set
That infinite silence up against this voice,
Comparing them; and I recall the eternal,
And the dead seasons, and the present one
Alive, and all the sound of it. And so
In this immensity my thought is drowned:
And I enjoy my sinking in this sea.

and by Osip Mandelstam:

Armed with the sight of the fine wasps
sucking at the earth’s axis, the earth’s axis,
I recall each thing that I’ve had to meet,
I remember it by heart, and in vain.

I do not draw or sing
or ply the dark voiced bow.
I make a little hole in life.  How I envy
the strength and cunning of the wasps!

Oh if only once the sting of the air and the heat
of summer could make me hear
beyond sleep and death
the earth’s axis, the earth’s axis.

(Voronezh. 8 February 1937, trans. C. Brown & W.S. Merwin)

left and right details from the Tartar Steppe

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