By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
Today’s blog post is a little different. Its focus is on Dalí’s words more than his pictures. Indeed, many have contended that Salvador Dalí was an even better writer than painter.
That could be debated until his soft watches turn hard, but such a deliberation would be pointless. What few would disagree with is that, while Dalí was a great painter, he was also a great writer – perhaps equally adept with a quill pen as with a sable brush.
You surely know many of his writings. The most popular include his first autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, and his second autobiography – yes, Dalí wrote two autobiographies – Diary of a Genius.
Then there was his book on process and technique, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship; and his inscrutable novel, Hidden Faces.
One book many fail to remember, or even know about, bares the same name as his famous painting: The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. It’s an interesting poem Dalí penned, and that’s the focus of this blog today:
Dalí and poetry.
Dalí was never far from poetry, given that Gala had previously been married to Paul Eluard, a respected poet in his day. And, earlier, Dalí and the iconic poet Federico Garcia Lorca were very close friends and classmates at the San Fernando Institute of Fine Arts in Madrid; their creative energy fed off of each other.
I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing Dalí’s verse, then Lorca’s great Oda a Salvador Dalí, and lastly my own poem written when Dalí’s health took an irreversible descent:
Oda a Salvador Dalí
By Garcia Lorca
(Due to cutting & pasting of Lorca’s lengthy poem, the physical presentation of his stanzas has been altered)
A rose in the high garden you desire. A wheel in the pure syntax of steel. The mountain stripped bare of Impressionist fog, The grays watching over the last balustrades. The modern painters in their white ateliers clip the square root’s sterilized flower. In the waters of the Seine a marble iceberg chills the windows and scatters the ivy. Man treads firmly on the cobbled streets. Crystals hide from the magic of reflections.
The Government has closed the perfume stores. The machine perpetuates its binary beat. An absence of forests and screens and brows roams across the roofs of the old houses. The air polishes its prism on the sea and the horizon rises like a great aqueduct. Soldiers who know no wine and no penumbra behead the sirens on the seas of lead. Night, black statue of prudence, holds the moon’s round mirror in her hand.
A desire for forms and limits overwhelms us. Here comes the man who sees with a yellow ruler. Venus is a white still life and the butterfly collectors run away. * Cadaqués, at the fulcrum of water and hill, lifts flights of stairs and hides seashells. Wooden flutes pacify the air. An ancient woodland god gives the children fruit. Her fishermen sleep dreamless on the sand. On the high sea a rose is their compass. The horizon, virgin of wounded handkerchiefs, links the great crystals of fish and moon. A hard diadem of white brigantines encircles bitter foreheads and hair of sand.
The sirens convince, but they don’t beguile, and they come if we show a glass of fresh water. * Oh Salvador Dalí, of the olive-colored voice! I do not praise your halting adolescent brush or your pigments that flirt with the pigment of your times, but I laud your longing for eternity with limits. Sanitary soul, you live upon new marble. You run from the dark jungle of improbable forms.
Your fancy reaches only as far as your hands, and you enjoy the sonnet of the sea in your window. The world is dull penumbra and disorder in the foreground where man is found. But now the stars, concealing landscapes, reveal the perfect schema of their courses. The current of time pools and gains order in the numbered forms of century after century. And conquered Death takes refuge trembling in the tight circle of the present instant. When you take up your palette, a bullet hole in its wing, you call on the light that brings the olive tree to life.
The broad light of Minerva, builder of scaffolds, where there is no room for dream or its hazy flower. You call on the old light that stays on the brow, not descending to the mouth or the heart of man. A light feared by the loving vines of Bacchus and the chaotic force of curving water. You do well when you post warning flags along the dark limit that shines in the night. As a painter, you refuse to have your forms softened by the shifting cotton of an unexpected cloud. The fish in the fishbowl and the bird in the cage.
You refuse to invent them in the sea or the air. You stylize or copy once you have seen their small, agile bodies with your honest eyes. You love a matter definite and exact, where the toadstool cannot pitch its camp. You love the architecture that builds on the absent and admit the flag simply as a joke. The steel compass tells its short, elastic verse. Unknown clouds rise to deny the sphere exists.
The straight line tells of its upward struggle and the learned crystals sing their geometries. * But also the rose of the garden where you live. Always the rose, always, our north and south! Calm and ingathered like an eyeless statue, not knowing the buried struggle it provokes. Pure rose, clean of artifice and rough sketches, opening for us the slender wings of the smile. (Pinned butterfly that ponders its flight.) Rose of balance, with no self-inflicted pains. Always the rose! *
Oh Salvador Dalí, of the olive-colored voice! I speak of what your person and your paintings tell me. I do not praise your halting adolescent brush, but I sing the steady aim of your arrows. I sing your fair struggle of Catalan lights, your love of what might be made clear. I sing your astronomical and tender heart, a never-wounded deck of French cards. I sing your restless longing for the statue, your fear of the feelings that await you in the street. I sing the small sea siren who sings to you, riding her bicycle of corals and conches. But above all I sing a common thought that joins us in the dark and golden hours.
The light that blinds our eyes is not art. Rather it is love, friendship, crossed swords. Not the picture you patiently trace, but the breast of Theresa, she of sleepless skin, the tight-wound curls of Mathilde the ungrateful, our friendship, painted bright as a game board. May fingerprints of blood on gold streak the heart of eternal Catalunya. May stars like falconless fists shine on you, while your painting and your life break into flower. Don’t watch the water clock with its membraned wings or the hard scythe of the allegory. Always in the air, dress and undress your brush before the sea peopled with sailors and ships.
Ode to Dalí: The Fire Dimmed
By Paul Chimera
He retreats into a darkened world,
His body weak and drawn,
A once vital man of mystery,
The drama sadly gone.
Where’s the Dalí we once knew,
Whose antics made us smile,
Painter of dreams and limpid clocks,
Horizons that stretch for miles?
We weep before your Glasgow Christ,
Whose beauty means compassion,
We praise the sureness of your brush,
Which you guided with such passion.
What your paintings say to me,
No poet can convey,
What words could ever match the grace,
Of your landscapes by the bay.
So cruel the persistence of time can be,
To finally dim the fire,
How dark the shades of night descend,
How sadly they conspire.
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)