Harry Gladwell’s One to Ten (For Vincent van Gogh)

Georges Seurat Painting_4 APR 2019

 

● Harry Gladwell’s name crops up a couple of times in my copy of The Letters of van Gogh and for some reason he made an impression, perhaps in terms of friendship. I guess we tend to think of Vincent van Gogh as a pretty solitary fellow unlucky in his friends ⸺ remember the terrible bust-up that happened with Paul Gaugin in the Yellow House? ⸺ and even his relationship with his brother Theo was a tremendous strain (for both of them) at times.

So: two young men wondering what life might have to offer them. I don’t know why Harry’s poem has to count its way from one to ten, but perhaps it suggests his happy-go-lucky nature, even though I wanted to portray him as a melancholy, brooding poetical type (like myself!). . . As for whether Vincent himself might respond with something in the same vein, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. In the world of poetry, nobody knows for sure!

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I could always count on him saying, “A sadness half lost is a gladness half WON”,
& I’d laugh all the same, even tho’ I’d heard it
about a million times before. Then, for good measure,
he’d usually add, just for the hell of it, “& a Gladwell half won, TOO!”
My red ears, he’d often make fun of them. “You’re as thin
as a stick!” he shriek with comic mirth (as if
he could talk . . .  ), but I’d mock
his bristly beard in revenge ⸺ “There’s at least THREE
bloody paintbrushes worth in that, if
you could ever bother getting yourself shaved . . . ”
We’d read poetry together sometimes, thick as thieves ⸺ Keats,
Wordsworth ⸺ Therefore am I still / A lover
of the meadows and the woods
, / And mountains; and all that we behold /

From this green earth . . . ⸺ we we’re both in our twenties
with no real idea of what our lives were FOR.
“My worthy Englishman,” he’d quip, daubing the chill
of another London afternoon with his chin,
“There’s still plenty of time for that! As long as we sur-VIVE
in the meantime . . . We’re not quite ready for that old
Rest in Peace just yet.” Like me,
he’s the kind who likes picking thru poems for clues, & who fos-SICKS
everywhere with ideas ⸺
when the mood takes him. Somewhere I’d got a hold
of a copy of Whitman. “One of the SEVEN,”
we call him, a shaft of true starshine to light our way
both from God
& godlessness. After hours & hours of conversation ⸺ w-EIGHT-less
with hunger ⸺ we’d shamble out for a walk & a bite to eat,
hard modern streets full of lamp-lit shadows
& rangy sneaking ca-NINE-s,
reflecting empty bellies back at us ⸺ at least in our case, bless me,
we rarely starved. Sometimes
he’d stay the night with the family, then head off the following morning,
all those miles to Isleworth on foot ⸺
& I’d stand rooted to the spot
watching his marching figure grow smaller right to the end of the road,
my insides by then churned up & utterly mol-TEN . . .

 

Image: Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890 (1890)

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If you’re interested in learning more about Harry Gladwell, there’s some information about him on the official website of the Gladwell Gallery, established by Harry Gladwell’s father in the mid-nineteenth century (and now known as the Gladwell & Patterson Gallery. There’s also something about Gladwell on Van Gogh Route, a site devoted to tracing the painter’s movements across Europe ⸺ and what a wandering life it was! As for Paul Signac’s painting, Christophe André has devoted a chapter to it in his book Méditer jour après jour (2011).

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