I recently stumbled upon a website which had the letters written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, family and friends. Completely absorbed I was lost to research for hours on end, compelled to learn more of this painters fascinating life story. Here is the resulting “found” poem which uses lines written by Van Gogh himself to describe his experiences, collated in a way which hopefully does justice to his tale. All credit given to Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker who edited and published his letters on line.
Sunflowers and Old Boots
This horror of life
I disgust myself as I look upon faces terrified by
my attacks of crisis.
Unexpected voices sound in my head
Things appear to change before my eyes
frightening me beyond measure.
Leaving a cracked jug of acute melancholy
a repulsion for life, not wanting to move
not wanting to wake again.
But extreme sluggishness is a crime!
I must climb back up from this dejected state.
I am very much behind. I have lost too much time.
I have dazzling ideas in my head, more than I could ever keep up with.
If only I’d been able to work without illness
How many things I could have done, what the land would tell me!
Those who don’t understand, that art preoccupies
accuse me of working too fast
but I should work as hard as a shoemaker, assiduously to make progress.
Money is the enemy before the troops
One cannot deny or
My dear brother I have bought a suit for 35 francs
But it will last the year
Yet I have need of shoes and a few pairs of drawers
I must paint to recover the money to produce
Perhaps, one day,
I’ll be able to repay all that I have spent.
If I had private means perhaps
My mind would be freer
To do art for art’s sake.
I could sell my bed for the price of a train ticket
That I may see you again
but no, I am condemned to inconveniences.
I must stay locked up in the asylum
So not to inflict suffering on those I love.
Here I don’t frighten anyone.
The sufferings of anguish aren’t funny when caught in a crisis
But comfort can be found amongst inmates
Who show kindness to one another – it isn’t so sad.
One man hasn’t stopped talking or shouting for a fortnight
Another honourable madman always wears a hat,
spectacles and carries a cane.
Some howl, rave, are manic and angry, some filthy, some dangerous.
The food smells musty and is hard to digest
But there is gentleness, we look after each other.
Frequent and decisive attacks mean I’m forbidden to paint,
Apprehensive of a relapse, I suffer a thwarted artistic will.
It’s a shipwreck of a journey.
In Spring, out in the park, I have the clarity for work
But the winter is dangerous
I am too damaged by grief.
I fear for what reason remains
And capacity for work may be lost.
I long to be freed from surroundings and circumstances
I don’t understand and be once more
Bathed in a benevolent sunshine.
A warm handshake as I say goodbye,
*Lines taken from VanGoghsLetters.org/vg/ edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker