As a writer, I often feel shortchanged in my vocation, as if it were hopelessly second-rate compared to the truly great art forms, painting and music, with their more direct route to the senses, and their division into creation and performance. On painting, Anthony Cronin, the eminent Irish poet, biographer and novelist (and close friend of Flann O'Brien and Brendan Behan), whom I had the great pleasure to spend time with in Vienna last year (see above), wrote a poem for his friend the Irish painter Patrick Swift:
Lines for a Painter
The tree grew under your hand
So many shades of green growing over the white
Canvas, as through the actual leaves outside the window
And through the open window onto the canvas fell the light.
And I sat on the bed trying unsuccessfully to write,
Envying you the union of the painter's mind and hand,
The contact of brush with canvas, the physical communion,
The external identity of the object and the painting you had planned;
For among the shards of memory nothing that day would grow
Of its own accord,
And I thought I could never see, as you saw the tree on the canvas,
One draughtsman's word.
Only inside the mind,
In the rubble of thought,
Were the pro-and-con, prose-growing, all too argumentative
Poems I sought.
Whereas there in Camden Town
In the petrol fumes and gold of a London summer was the tree you drew,
As you might find anywhere, inside or outside the studio, something
Which was itself, not you.
Well envying I have said,
But the evening as we walked
Through the cooling twilight down
To the pub and talked
I saw what in truth I had envied-
Not in fact
That you were released from any obligation,
Or that the act
Of painting was less or more objective
Than thinking the word-
But that, like poems, your painting
Was of course the reward
Of the true self yielding to appearances
Outside its power
While still in the dominion of love asseverating
Its absolute hour.
Lovely stuff, closely observed and lyrical. Well done, Tony. But it makes me envious of Swift.