Van Gogh at Saint Remy

My dear Theo,
    It’s been a week since I committed
myself. I feel quite at home and with
no regrets that I did so. This is not 
to say, of course, that given my state 
of mind I will not swing to a more 
extreme opinion. For the present, 
all is more than I could have imagined 
or expected.
    I am not alone here, other men suffer
as I do. A few are quite beyond 
reach, while others are holding on
with courage. By observing these madmen
and lunatics, little by little I am
beginning to see that madness is
a disease like any other, except
for the cries and howls, especially
at night, then the place resembles
a managerie of strange animals.
	As for my health, it is good, considering
my last attack. But, please, do not concern
yourself about my health. I assure you
I can manage. Besides, I know I will
be happy here than if I were elsewhere.
By staying here, perhaps for a few weeks
or even months, a routine of daily habits 
should, in the long run, bring more order 
to my life and lessen my anxieties.
	As proof of my new optimism, I have 
already completed two paintings – “Blue Irises”
and “Lilacs.” A room has even been 
set aside as a studio for me. It does 
me so much good, Theo,  and drives 
away dark thoughts that disturb me when 
I least expect them and frighten me 
like a child. 
    I noticed the irises in the little 
garden the first day I arrived and put 
them to oil and canvas the very next day.
You will marvel at how fresh and vibrant 
they are when you see the canvases.
What caught my eye more forcefully is 
the deep violet-blue – like those of Chartres.
I hope you will find a buyer for it.
Then I would not be so dependent on
your generosity, especially now that your 
wife is expecting – congratulations,
my dear brother! If a boy, what name
do you plan to give him, or is it too
early to ask? Write and tell me.
	What matters now is that I keep working, 
for despite my setbacks I am more than 
ever convinced I can make something 
of myself, my art, my life. I burn for 
some modest recognition, some 
honest and official  praise. It would give 
my spirit such a boost. And, if I may 
indulge my vanity a little, the day 
may not be far in the future when I 
can reap a measure of success to off-set 
my miserable life to date.
	If only what afflicts me, this malady,
would leave me long enough to achieve 
my dreams. But if not, I won’t be bitter; 
for even if my work goes unrecognized 
in my lifetime, can I not hope that 
future generations will not ignore it, 
understand what I was trying to do? 
Theo, my dear brother, I am persuaded
that it will be so. Was not the Nazarene
denied his due and honor by his own?
	Doctor Peyron has given me permission 
to work outside in the small flower
garden nearby and to scout the landscape
that surrounds the asylum. And what
magnificant landscape it is! To paint
nature here you must walk amidst its
beauties. To that end, I take long walks
to discover its many features, starting
early in the morning and returning
late in the evening. There is so much
to see that lifts my dampened spirits:
Waving yellow fields of wheat clear to
the distant hills, row after row of olive
trees, brilliant flowers everywhere, open
skies with massive slow-moving, swirling 
clouds, and tall cypresses that rise and twist
into the sky like cathedral spires. 
I already know how I will portray them
on my canvases.
	But nothing, I tell you, my dear brother,
nothing compares to the the night skies here
at St. Rémy – these starry nights, so vast,
so visionary! Already I foresee 
several paintings of these starry skies, 
like the one I did on the Rhône in Arles 
last September. But these of Saint-Rémy 
will demand my very best. How they
fire me to paint and charge my brushes!
In truth, dear brother, it is as close
to God as I have ever come. Everywhere
I turn, it’s an ecstasy of color, a banquet
for the senses! I am glutted by a flood
of sensations that leave me staggering
under the pouring heat of the Midi sun.
If only you could visit me, even if just 
for a day, to see it all, to walk together 
as we did along the Rijswijk road where 
we stopped to drink milk near the mill 
after the rain – do you remember, Theo? 
I will always cherish those memories.
	There is so much here, so much that awaits
my brushes and canvases. And I am
so eager to begin. When I return 
after a long day in the field, I am
too exhausted to paint, too overwhelmed
by all the work I foresee, my nerves
too taut. And then I am always filled
with remorse when I think of my work,
that it is so little in harmony with
the way I envision it in my head.
But I can’t stop; I must paint. And yet
I hardly know where to begin. My hand,
head and heart shake with delight and despair. 
I want the world to see Saint-Rémy on 
my canvases. I want everyone to know 
and acknowledge that I, Vincent, the mad
Dutchman, was here, painted here!
My dearest brother, how glorious is life!

Copyright © | Year Posted 2018




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Date: 4/13/2018 7:56:00 PM
Wonderfully penned, Maurice, and quite an enjoyable read. Your poem, through the eyes of the readers, is a lasting tribute to Van Gogh, especially his graceful acceptance of a mental condition that required him to be confined to an institution. Great job!
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Date: 4/10/2018 4:39:00 PM
maurice - this is so realistic i felt like i was actually peeking into van gogh's brain. i could have read a lot more of it! he is one of my favorite painters of all time and i am grateful that i live near enough to the metropolitan museum of art that i get to see some of his landscapes (my favorites) on a regular basis. a brilliant piece of writing!
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