Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Max Schmitt in a Single Scull", by Thomas Eakins

By Aussiegirl

I had just finished posting the article below on Eakins' "The Gross Clinic", when I remembered that one of my very favorite paintings is also by Eakins, the beautiful and tranquil "Max Schmitt in a Single Scull" -- and reposeful, one definition of "repose" being "a harmony in the disposition of parts and colors restful to the eye" -- so very true here.

Philip Dacey, in the American Scholar, spring 2000, published this beautiful poem about this very painting:

In a few years, money will corrupt
even sculling, the bets and scandals
sink industrial America's first
public sport--the rower as hero,
the news papers awash with statistics,
the dimensions of boats--

but now I am fresh from victory,
letting myself enjoy the drift
after exertion, a starboard turn
past where I have turned
to look over my shoulder
and find you standing on the bank.

Here the river, a wide paten,
lifts light like a host,
the bread of time
an arrested moment,
nothing cast away in a vain hope
of multiplying it.
Here I am a pause
within a pause.

My paddles feather in the water
just enough to slip under its skin.

A lawyer by trade, used to the drag and
of statutes and codes,
I love the language of rowing, its purl
against the hull--
to feather, to settle,
to catch, kiss, cox,
to fly and die,
but most, to swing,
to move in a perfect harmony
of body and boat, muscle and machine,
until boundaries dissolve
and the sky could be water,
the water my rushing thought.

In the middle distance, Tom
twenty-seven and just back from France,
ambitious to part all the waters,
strains in a boat that carries his name.
Our wakes tell the story,
how we passed each other,
two old friends from boyhood,
just before you came.

Such a spacious afternoon on the
Such a promise of easy freedom,
yet I hold you fast,
the light turning my skin
nearly white, like that of some
athletic ghost
as my eyes fix you in their gaze,
from which you cannot escape,
though you will proceed on your way.

For I knew you would be there
when I looked over my shoulder.
It is why I turned to this side,
singling you out from the others,
and why you wonder
about our connection, the strength
of what burns between us in the air;
as if I were more than myself, or other--
Tom, say, looking out through these eyes,
his absorption in his own rowing
a deliberate misdirection,
or even you,
that too familiar stranger
glanced in the calm surface of any mirror
and stroked furiously away from
for so many years.

A sculler, I must face backwards
to move forwards
so that looking over my shoulder
I seem to be moving into a future
that is already, before its time, all past.

How strange now to hold both oars loosely in
one hand!
Like the four ducks that have folded their
A kind of amen

And you, when you leave me,
will you drift or steer,
and which course,
past or future?
Why do we wound the water
to move forward?
The wider the wake, the sooner it will


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