Monday, October 24, 2005


Large Bad Picture

Remembering the Strait of Belle Isle or
some northerly harbor of Labrador,
before he became a schoolteacher
a great-uncle painted a big picture.

Receding for miles on either side
into a flushed, still sky
are overhanging pale blue cliffs
hundreds of feet high,

their bases fretted by little arches,
the entrances to caves
running in along the level of a bay
masked by perfect waves.

On the middle of that quiet floor
sits a fleet of small black ships,
square-rigged, sails furled, motionless,
their spars like burnt match-sticks.

And high above them, over the tall cliffs'
semi-translucent ranks,
are scribbled hundreds of fine black birds
hanging in n's in banks.

One can hear their crying, crying,
the only sound there is
except for occasional sighing
as a large aquatic animal breathes.

In the pink light
the small red sun goes rolling, rolling,
round and round and round at the same height
in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling,

while the ships consider it.
Apparently they have reached their destination.
It would be hard to say what brought them there,
commerce or contemplation.

Elizabeth Bishop

Chinese painting is the representation of a culture, not a piece of terrain. Nature is not disrespected, but this is because it is tied so closely to cultural identity -- for the ancient Chinese at least, there was no difference between the natural world and the Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo).

A Chinese park is not only painstakingly cultivated, it is heavily enculturated. As Nick Land and Anna Greenspan write here, there is no conception of civilization 'spoiling' an originally pure natural habitat. In fact, civilization is a necessary improvement.
- We Will Forever Be Indoors

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