Crows over the Wheatfield, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
Van Gogh at Auvers Recalls
His Childhood in Brabant
27 July 1890
ho should I speak with now? The crows rising as one
from the willows to veer over the wheatfields out of sight?
Gachet?--the fool, what can he tell me? "Don't fret--time
will ease your malady. A few more months, a few more years."
Dear Christ, to bear another day of this cold light
pouring down from a lifeless sky--a few more years? And who am I
to take the food from my nephew's mouth, poor Theo's purse
gone dry with the strain of my illness, and him, weaker by far
than even I. How long? Some days the pain rages behind my eyes--
I can barely sort the colors much less the forms, and my hand
cannot bear the weight of the smallest brush. And who
shall I tell my misery? Who shall I tell that the willows
writhe like cypresses, souvenirs of the South when I am
returned to the North, to nordic blues and chill air
rustling in the wheatfields in the early hours, before this lifeless
light rushes over everything and will not cease. Is it
a character in Dickens--or do I make it up?--who stumps the fields
talking all day to someone no one else can see? A little mad
--or more so. "Scarecrow," they call me, those students
and their flirting ladies--their youth forgives somewhat
the grief they bring, the teasing; "madman," the children
call me--how some day like Elisha's sow I'd love to see
a bear rear from the wheatfields, lumber from the swimming willows
and put the proper fear of the Lord in them--to mock
a man--and those girls.
Theo has found the true
joy of life, not these paints and the constant concern
whether the oils are dry enough for spirits of wine, whether
the base is mixed firm enough, the canvas prepared--who cares?
Have I asked too much, and who, dear God, who beside yourself
have I dared speak as much as this, a wife, a child--not so much
to take as to give. Where to place this love that swirls and eddies
like the night sky, like the air itself roaring around the forms
of cypresses, of willows, rushing in the emptiness a crow's wings
leave in air--Sien!
At every turn, a path winds through the trees,
disappears at a bend into the fields, those paths I followed
miles from home in Brabant--how the life comes full
circle, alone then as now, not even my sisters to talk to, Cor
impatient of the quietude, and he younger, it can be excused.
How did I stray so far from the path that seems so clearly marked,
so plain--the drawings then, how I recall the wagon-shed
I sketched for my father. Delicate lines, tentative--all line,
but it took the form, it captured the play of light and shade.
He treasured it. It hung on the wall beside the parlor hearth
until the move--where then? And where the flames? And who
shall sit and warm himself? How the harrowed fields
shone in midday sun, the dark soil gleaming with buried treasure
--its own dark light. And the close smell, manure steaming
as the honey-wagons jolted over the hard soil before the blades
\pard worked it in. In the fall, the low eastern light catching
the bases of stubble and spinning them pure gold.
I could turn left off Rue Boucher and walk back all the years,
awake beneath a willow near Kalmhout Heath, the sun
low in a slate blue sky, not troubled as this sky, the clouds
massing in the west and soaking up the sun's heat, letting
only this thin light suffuse the cadaverous green, as though the world
were done in porcelain, each blade of grass and wheat-stalk
unmoving, frozen with a glaze of light--there the sun would play
in the silvered leaves, a fluidity of tone and texture,
the light exploding from each feather of a raven's wing--
not black, no--too full of light, of color, pouring from within--
iridescent as a dove's ringed throat. The light coaxed
voice from each separate leaf and stone; how you lived then, my God,
in the midst of plenty, and how you fled. Is it your cold eye
stares from the crow's dull face perched in the chestnut,
yours the stare of unredeeming sun?
I see so clearly, like a man
who's leapt in the stream and shocked by the cold, by the pull
of current, perceives each detail of the shore
rushing violently away--too late! Too late! The deft
shapes in Daubigny's garden, the delicate hyacinths,
their blooms ascending the stem like bells a carillon
to ring, stamen and pistil, their praise on the fresh spring air--
my eye sees more clearly than before how the sky here
lifts straight out of the oceans of wheat, bearing mauve and violet
from the stalks ocher tinged with red--there is nothing fixed
as a line might fix it, yet the hand cannot seize that flow, cannot
mix paint with fixity enough to bear the flow across the grain.
Who should I tell how desire has fled my soul--the life
this life has drained away or let seep out--only the canvas tells it.
Only the paint can speak of how it's been, how it was you
that set the air aswirl around the stars, and how you would not relent
and speak even the harsh caw of a crow as it lifts from the branch,
tired of me as the townfolk, as Gachet who can only make me now
flush with anger at his stupidity--to leave that painting unframed.
As I grow ever more tired of myself. So much roiling space.
Is it your scent lifts from this dung-heap?--the little
atomies of flies tormented by the promising stench.