The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am a retired art historian, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it attempted ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stricken, But Not Vanquished, January 9, 2008

Farewell, Fine Friend, Jan 2008 (Originally posted by me to Flickr, Jan 9, 2008, see:

One of our dear friends, John F., has been battling brain cancer for some while, and I made a small set about this in early December. To the amazement of everybody, he went right to the brink, and then rallied. He was so frail he could barely eat or move, let alone walk. Around December 3rd, the doctors wondered if he would even make it through the coming night. They told his wife that they would only send an ambulance, in the morning, if he woke up. If!...well he did, he rallied, gained a little weight, and recently, with his father's help, has even gone to the office for a little while, each day. One day, I received an email from him, inviting Maria and I to stop by. So, today, my wife and I visited him, and shared, among other stories, the one I am about to tell, as well as the "poem" that follows.

Meanwhile, I have been having a struggle with a tree in the woods directly behind our house, which lost its top in a storm. Trouble was, its top fell onto another tree, and got stuck there, refusing to shed its leaves--even though long dead. It became an eye sore directly in the center of our favorite outlook, so I resolved to fell it.

On Monday, I cut right through the trunk, yet it stood so upright, and supported by the other tree, it just rolled on its wound, like a knee in a joint, and refused to fall. As I was high on an aluminum ladder, and wondering what to do next, lightening flashed, accompanied by a modest, grumbling thunder. I retreated to the house, and watched my tree. There were two more flashes of lightening, some claps of minor thunder, a slight wind, and then the tree, finally knocked off balance, dropped to the forest floor.

The gentle storm, having done its work, passed immediately, and the sky cleared. I went out again to examine my tree. Turns out, it too had brain cancer, and that's why it had snapped, when its sisters bent with the autumn winds.

These intertwined events inspired the following lines, dashed off, before visiting our friend John F.:

Stricken, But Not Vanquished:

In the woods, behind my house
There is this tree. A tree
Outwardly much like its peers.
Yet hidden within its lofty brow,
A fatal flaw was hiding.

It raised two branches in the air,
Like arms held up, in supplication.
Yet the rain had found a way
To penetrate the gap between.

Over years, finding its way deep down
Into the upper core of this fine tree,
The rain was slowly eating, eating,
Like a cancer in the brain.
Hidden Infirmity, 2008.JPG

Autumn winds did sweep my little wood,
And all the trees did sway and bend.
But this year, when others bent,
This one snapped, its crown falling.

No, it fell not to the ground;
But rested its crown on its sister tree,
And held on to its own leaves, tenaciously,
Bowed down, but not fully broken.
Too Much To Bear, 2008.JPG

Storms came and went.
Came and went, tearing
At the trees behind my house.
But this old warrior held on.

Holding its leaves when all were barren,
It stood out, a beacon in the sky,
Proclaiming to me I know not what,
Always capturing my attention.

A day came, when I could bear its sorrow
No more. Drooped in dry leaves,
Lacking strength to bloom in Spring;
Unable to match its lesser peers.

I took the saw to its noble brow,
And struck deep, deep into its core.
Mocking me, holding death's sickle,
It, so upright, held firm as I cut.
Holding Strong To The End, Jan 2008.JPG

I cut from every angle, in every way.
It rocked steadily on its wounds,
But refused to bow to my blade,
Taking strength from resting on its sister.

Lightening bolts flashed in the sky.
I, from my ladder, descended,
Taking refuge from the storm.
Inside, I sat and watched my tree.

Silently, gracefully, in its proper time,
It yielded to the gentle wind, and dropped.
Dropped before my wondering eyes,
Resting quietly on the forest floor.
Lost and Found In The Woods, Dec. 31 2007.JPG

Its ashes, I will spread
Like snow, across the forest floor,
To nourish others, that they too,
Might stand, so brave, so upright.

Oh! Noble tree, I salute you.
How hung you on so long?
We none of us know,
What became of Lazarus,
Or of others that Jesus healed.

In wonder, and gratitude, for such things seen,
John Walford, January 9th, 2008.

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John Walford

John Walford
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I am a British-born, retired art historian, who taught in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and twelve grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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