Outside the Walls

Tonight I cut three large panels and put a first coat of Gesso on them. No works in progress but some ideas in the mind. So tonight I share with you an old watercolour quite dear to my heart.

This watercolour represents the view from our farmhouse when we lived in South Africa. I have always liked how the zig-zag composition leads the eye into that far blue space. I recall looking at this view day after day, and always thought of Rilke’s poem (below) in inverted format: the landscape waits like a besieging army. In Rilke’s poem, the image is presented in the opposite way – Rilke says the enemy is so vast – he lies outside the walls like a countryside. I feel the poem is most effective from the middle of the second verse:

He lies outside the walls like a countryside.
And he knows very well how to endure
longer than the ones he comes to visit.

Climb up on your roofs and look out:
his camp is there, and his morale doesn’t falter,
and his numbers do not decrease; he will not grow weaker,
and he sends no one into the city to threaten
or promise, and no one to negotiate.

He is the one who breaks down the walls,
and when he works, he works in silence.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Poem #15 in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, by Robert Bly

I love how Bly discusses this poem in the beautiful introductory essay. He likens the “Enemy” of Rilke’s poem to an awakening force that can break the husk of day-to-day life that keeps so many of us trapped. Bly says:

When I translated the last few lines, I felt frightened; the lines imply that the awakening force will not make the first move; perhaps no one will come to help, no parents, no gurus…When the walls break, Rilke says, they break “in silence”.

Thanks so much to all of you who have encouraged me. I have scraped off parts of my last Painting #31 and tonight – after preparing some panels – I reworked the darks a bit. Something is coming alive there in the shadows…

16 thoughts on “Outside the Walls

  1. The watercolor is beautiful, and Rilke’s words truly stirred me. He has so aptly described the feelings of a siege…it’s chilling, really. We can be besieged by so many things in life, and this is exactly how they work. Simply lying in wait outside the walls, wearing us down by their constant presence. When I read the poem then go back to look at your landscape, I see so much there. I see it not as an enemy to be conquered but more as a force to be joined. There is so much “out there” waiting for us. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to face the future and see what it holds. I want to explore those vast spaces beyond. Thank you again for an inspiring “morning meditation”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, I am glad you could take something from it. I was not able to quote Bly’s discussion of the poem in detail – I think no one has time to read more than 3 paragraphs these days! – but basically, he actually likens the “Enemy” that lies outside “like a countryside” to a silent force that wakes us up, slowly and steadily – if we are open to it – so that we can break free from the husk of daily routine and mechanistic thinking in which we all get caught. I think it is significant – like Bly points out – that the “Enemy” does not send anyone to negotiate – we really have no choice but to live, learn and become more aware of our live and the need for compassion.
      Lots to think about! I hope you are doing well and enjoying your creations in paint!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear there is something small here you can take to your wise old tree. I think of you in another part of the world, making your way to the wise old tree. It brings to mind a poem by Tomas Transtromer which contains the lines:
      “I go home through warm woods
      where the earth is springy under my feet
      curl up like someone still unborn, sleep, roll on
      so weightlessly into the future, suddenly understand
      that plants are thinking”

      I hope you have a deep conversation with your tree today!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Many, many thanks Fibronacci! I feel very honoured, being a real newcomer here. I hope to find time this weekend to pass on the word – if I can figure out how to do it! Thanks again, I hope you are doing well and are happy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂 Looking forward to your responses! I have more information in my post (link in my comment above) on how to participate.
        I am doing well, and hope you are too. Really enjoying your recent paintings in the tonalist vein!
        Have a great day!


  2. I lived in southern Africa briefly years ago and remember how lovely it was. This beautiful watercolor truly evokes those gorgeous open vistas and skies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, southern Africa is very special. Now that I live in New Zealand, I appreciate how different the color and type of light is in different countries. I think it has to do not only with atmospheric conditions (dust etc.) but also with the curvature of space, where we are relative to the poles, etc. Whatever the reason – southern Africa has a quality of light that is just very special to me. Thanks for your visit and comment!


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