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Inexhaustability: drink it up

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Constable_clouds_small.jpg
In "Snow," Louis MacNeice wrote of "the drunkenness of things being various," but I also enjoy a drunkenness of things being synonymous.  Take, for example, Karl Ove Knausgaard's experience of a painting of clouds by John Constable, recounted in his memoir, My Struggle:

[S]uddenly he is in tears, arrested by "an oil sketch of a cloud formation from September 6, 1822," and unable to explain his reaction.  What is he feeling?  "The feeling of inexhaustibility.  The feeling of beauty.  The feeling of presence."  He has always been unsettled by paintings, but he has never found it easy to describe his experience of them -- "because of what they possessed, the core of their being, was inexhaustibility and what that wrought in me was a kind of desire.  I can't explain it any better than that.  A desire to be inside the inexhaustibility."

This passage from James Woods' The New Yorker review of My Struggle stayed with me because I did not understand Knausgaard's use of "inexhaustibility."  An avid devotee of visual art myself, I did not identify with the quality that Knausgaard found so salient. 

Poussin_Rinaldo_Armida_small.jpgAnd then, as chance provided, I read Louis MacNeice's poem, "Poussin," and I understood.  In "Poussin," MacNeice describes the experience of gazing upon "that Poussin" in which "the clouds are like golden tea" and "cupids' blue feathers beat musically."  The motion in the painting he characterizes as "still as when one walks and the moon / Walks parallel but relations remain the same":

And thus we never reach the dregs of the cup,
Though we drink it up and drink it up and drink it up
Yes, exactly: the experience is inexhaustible.  Return always and be nourished again.  Our only counterbalance to mortality: drink it up while we can.

Image of John Constable's "Cloud Study: evening," from the National Gallery of Australia; image of Nicolas Poussin's "Rinaldo and Armida" from WikiPaintings.

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