First, click here to view a painting by Charles Burchfield. Next, read this poem, “On a Picture by Burchfield,” by Donald Justice:
“Write no more, little flowers. Art keeps long hours.
Already your agony has outlasted ours.”
Now, read another Justice poem, “Sadness,” with a Burchfield reference in the fourth stanza:
Dear ghosts, dear presences, O my dear parents,
Why were you so sad on porches, whispering?
What great melancholies were loosed among our swings!
As before a storm one hears the leaves whispering
And marks each small change in the atmosphere,
So was it then to overhear and to fear.
But all things then were oracle and secret.
Remember the night when, lost, returning, we turned back
Confused, and our headlights singled out the fox?
Our thoughts went with it then, turning and turning back
With the same terror, into the deep thicket
Beside the highway, at home in the dark thicket.
I say the wood within is the dark wood,
Or wound no torn shirt can entirely bandage,
But the sad hand returns to it in secret
Repeatedly, encouraging the bandage
To speak of that other world we might have borne,
The lost world buried before it could be born.
Burchfield describes the pinched white souls of violets
Frothing the mouth of a derelict old mine
Just as an evil August night comes down,
All umber, but for one smudge of dusky carmine.
It is the sky of a peculiar sadness —
The other side perhaps of some rare gladness.
What is it to be happy, after all? Think
Of the first small joys. Think of how our parents
Would whistle as they packed for the long summers,
Or, busy about the usual tasks of parents,
Smile down at us suddenly for some secret reason,
Or simply smile, not needing any reason.
But even in the summers we remember
The forest had its eyes, the sea its voices,
And there were roads no map would ever master,
Lost roads and moonless nights and ancient voices —
And night crept down with an awful slowness toward the water;
And there were lanterns once, doubled in the water.
Sadness has its own beauty, of course. Toward dusk,
Let us say, the river darkens and looks bruised,
And we stand looking out at it through rain.
It is as if life itself were somehow bruised
And tender at this hour; and a few tears commence.
Not that they are but that they feel immense.
Finally, consider this observation from James Merrill:
“One must conclude that style is almost everything.”