March 30: Francisco Goya was born on this day in 1746, and Vincent van Gogh was born on this day in 1856. Goya’s “Disasters of War” is a series of eighty-three etchings based on the atrocities committed by Napoleon’s soldiers upon Spanish peasants. In Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), her book on the history of visualizing war, Susan Sontag describes Goya’s etchings as “a turning point in the history of moral feelings and of sorrow.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “In Goya’s Greatest Scenes” transports the suffering humanity depicted in “Disasters of War” and other works to a new century and continent:
They are the same people
only further from home
on freeways fifty lanes wide
on a concrete continent
spaced with bland billboards
illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness
The scene shows fewer tumbrils
but more maimed citizens
in painted cars
and they have strange license plates
that devour America….
One of the ‘found poems’ in Annie Dillard’s Mornings Like This (1996) is “I am Trying to Get at Something Utterly Heartbroken,” constructed from passages in van Gogh’s letters:
A ploughed field with clods of violet earth;
Over all a yellow sky with a yellow sun.
So there is every moment something that moves one intensely.
A bluish-grey line of trees with a few roofs.
I simply could not restrain myself or keep
My hands off it or allow myself to rest.
A mother with her child, in the shadow
Of a large tree against the dune.
To say how many green-greys there are is impossible.
I love so much, so very much, the effect
Of yellow leaves against green trunks.
This is not a thing that I have sought,
But it has come across my path and I have seized it.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.