The Poetry of Remembrance: Pablo Neruda & Brian Patten 0

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda, born on this day in 1904, is internationally recognised by many readers for his profound and diverse poetry. The subject matter of his work is extensive, ranging from lyrical celebrations of his native Chile to more sombre versifications on love, mortality and the ultimate transience of the human experience. Perhaps more significant, though, is Neruda’s recurrent emphasis on the importance of memory and time in shaping our response to events which, inevitably, will affect all of us at some point in our lives.

Pablo Neruda

 

Suffering bereavement is, unfortunately, one such event that will be experienced by each and every one of us. However, as celebrations of lives well-lived continue to demonstrate, it is in no small part through the act of remembrance that we can begin to reconcile with our grief and move forward beyond the absences left by the loss of our loved ones.

 

Although often overlooked in the everyday life of many people, poetry often acts as a spiritual balm for families during their most fragile moments. Even if we are not regular readers of poetry ourselves, it is often the case that the linguistic deployment of certain phrases, words and images can help us in giving positive expression to the heartfelt pain and emotion brought about by death. By reading poetry, we feel less isolated; we become connected to a universality of feeling that is usually contained in the private thoughts of others. Thinking about how someone else has dealt with their grief can bring a particular reprieve to our own personal hardships, and it is for this reason that poetry often plays a central role in the funeral service.

 

The process of grieving undoubtedly brings about contemplations of our own mortality, but such thoughts need not lead us further into despair. Indeed, in Neruda’s poem And How Long? the poet uses the motif of time to propose a string of probing questions that seek to force a reconsideration of traditionally accepted perspectives on life and death:

 

How long does a man live after all?

Does he live a thousand days, or only one?

A week, or several centuries?

How long does a man spend dying?

What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?

 

If Neruda’s questions provoke deeper thinking about life, loss, memory and time, then poet Brian Patten’s work, So many different lengths of time, provides us with a simple and heartfelt answer to these questions. By opening his poem with the above verse by Neruda, Patten establishes an immediate thematic link to the Chilean poet, but goes beyond the Chilean poet by seeking to overcome the looming finality of death. Patten’s poem argues that it is the act of remembrance which offers family members the best antidote to the anguish of loss. In tackling the subject of grief, Patten views poetry as performing an important social function: ‘Poetry helps us understand what we’ve forgotten to remember. It reminds us of things that are important to us when the world overtakes us emotionally.’

 

If Neruda asks, ‘How long does a man live after all?’, then Patten provides us with the simplest of answers: ‘A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us’. Although death brings much uncertainty and grief in its wake, the memories that we share with our families about those we have lost is no small consolation. As time unfolds, the importance of remembering those we love increases, and by talking, laughing and sharing stories with other people, we can ensure they remain with us forever. Patten’s poetry suggests that our dearly departed can attain a form of immortality through a continued presence within our thoughts and memories. In revisiting Patten’s poem on the anniversary of Pablo Neruda’s birth, we should take comfort in the knowledge that remembrance of the past –and of memories shared with those we have loved and lost– gives us a means of getting beyond grief and moving forward in our lives.

 

So many different lengths of time, Brian Patten

 

How long does a man live after all?
A thousand days or only one?
One week or a few centuries?
How long does a man spend living or dying
and what do we mean when we say gone forever?

Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.
We can go to the philosophers
but they will weary of our questions.
We can go to the priests and rabbis
but they might be busy with administrations.

So, how long does a man live after all?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret and ask so many questions –
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple after all.

A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.

His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch:
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.

And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks, then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased
but will have ceased to be separated by death.

How long does a man live after all?
A man lives so many different lengths of time.

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The Anatomical Art of Salvador Dali 1

Dali Anatomical Art

There are few, if any, people interested in modern art that will not recognise the name Salvador Dali. Now, nearly thirty years after his death, he is considered one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century and is lauded for revolutionising the way we think about painting and art. In his paintings, the human body figures extensively and was used over and over again in a variety of innovative ways. Here we take a look at some of his most important anatomical art, and consider how and why Dali used the human form so much in his work.

As we shall see below, the anatomy as represented visually by Dali was heavily influenced by the medical and scientific thinking of the day, and the morbid fascination brought on by the horrors of World War II, and later the atomic age.

 All images courtesy of WikiArt.org

 

The Anthropomorphic Cabinet – 1936

Dali was fascinated with psychoanalysis and the ideas of Sigmund Freud, arguing that it was he who discovered that the human body ‘is nowadays full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable to open.’ This idea is realised in Dali’s painting The Anthropomorphic Cabinet, where the famous ancient sculpture Venus de Milo was adapted to become a human chest of drawers, or perhaps more accurately in terms of Dali’s art, a cabinet was adapted to take on a human form. This painting was preceded by Dali’s similarly themed Atmospheric Chair, in which abstract, but possibly human, shapes emerge from a cabinet.

 

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) – 1936

Dali Soft Construction

Salvador Dali often seemed to use the human form and its distortions to reflect on the important contemporary issues of his time. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans seems to be one such painting. A commentary on the horrors and difficulties of the Spanish Civil War, in which Dali and many of his friends found themselves caught up, the painting attempts to visualise the destruction of the conflict by creating an equally monstrous human form. Dali himself declared that the diabolical head displayed in the painting was inspired by Francisco Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son.

 

Metamorphosis of Narcissus – 1937

Dali Narcissus

One of Dali’s more famous paintings, Metamorphosis of Narcissus plays with the idea of ego, self-love and the Ancient Greek myth from which narcissism derives its name. The story revolves around Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection in a lake and eventually being immortalised by the Gods in the form of a flower. In Dali’s painting, the human form is contrasted with a similarly shaped rock formation that can also be easily interpreted as a stony hand from which a flower grows. The painting had a great impact, with it being shown to Freud himself, and with Dali’s own secretary, the photographer and author Robert Descharnes, arguing that it meant a great deal to the artist as well.

 

The Face of War – 1940

Dali The Face of War

Another Dali painting inspired by the brutalities of war, The Face of War was finished between the end of the Spanish Civil War and the start of the Second World War. It portrays a decaying face, perhaps that of a corpse, that contains identical faces in its eye sockets and mouth. These smaller faces also contain the same face in their eyes and mouth, suggesting that this process goes on forever in an infinite regress. On the topic of the painting, Dali wrote in his Diary: ‘Not a single minute of my life passes without the sublime Catholic, apostolic, and Roman spectre of death accompanying me even in the least important of my most subtle and capricious fantasies.’

 

Galatea of the Spheres – 1952

Dali Spheres

As one of Dali’s later paintings, Galatea of the Spheres reconciles Dali’s unique surrealist style with the new science and ideas emerging in the middle of the 20th Century. Fascinated by the atom and nuclear physics in the wake of the first dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, Dali sought to create a piece of art that reflected the idea that the entire universe was made up of atoms, between which there was a great deal of space or emptiness, and created this portrait of his wife in response. Also influenced by classical mythology, the painting appears to be one of Dali’s more straightforward to interpret, but is no less impressive for the fact.

Four of Our Favourite Morbid Museums 0

Hunterian Museum

The term ‘morbidly fascinating’ is one that we use often and apply to a great many things – both to people and to phenomena. It’s probably also the most succinct and suitable description available for four of our favourite museums.

 

The Hunterian, the Morbid Anatomy Museum, Bodyworlds and the Museum of Mummies all tackle the issue of death in a different way – whether it’s in terms of preservation techniques, anatomy or artistic representation – and are some of the most interesting and perhaps controversial museums in the world.

 

While many of the exhibitions may not be to everyone’s taste, they provide us with an opportunity to face death and to recognise the fact of human mortality in a visceral and unflinching manner, while often teaching us a great deal about the human body, societal attitudes towards death and our own ability to talk about the issue. Here we take a look at what makes each of the four museums worthy of a visit.

 

Hunterian – London, UK

Often referred to as ‘the weirdest museum in London’, The Hunterian is based in the Royal College of Surgeons near Holborn and contains a fascinating array of anatomical specimens. Centred around John Hunter’s large collection of skeletons, skulls, organs and diseased body parts, over the years the museum has expanded its collection to include surgical instruments and anatomy tables. It has developed a large and loyal following, most of whom appreciate the free entry and weird and wonderful exhibitions always on offer.

Hunterian Museum

While it has its origins in the government purchase of the famous scientist and surgeon’s specimens in 1799, the Hunterian has made a number of important acquisitions over its lifetime, most notably in its odontological department and with Richard Owen’s natural history collections. It is home to the skeleton of the famous ‘Irish giant’ and the historically important Evelyn tables and the museum has committed to the development and renovation of the building in which it is housed.

 

In May 2017, the Hunterian closed for a three year period in order to perform necessary repairs and modernisation works. It is scheduled to reopen in 2020.

Find funeral directors in London.

 

Morbid Anatomy Museum – Brooklyn, USA

Located in Brooklyn, New York, the Morbid Anatomy Museum was the brainchild of Joanna Ebenstein and Tracy Hurley Martin, two individuals who discovered they shared a passion for the macabre and morbid and decided to act on it.

Morbid Anatomy Museum

While the idea was first realised as a blog and then a library, it finally became a fully-fledged museum space in 2014, complete with lecture space, café and shop. Dedicated to the strange and surreal, the museum houses a collection of death related curiosities and exhibits ranging from Victorian taxidermy and preserved insects to antique medical contraptions.

The Morbid Anatomy Museum hosts regular death cafes. For more about death cafes, check out our piece.

 

Bodyworlds – Berlin, Germany

Though going to visit a museum exhibition curated by someone commonly referred to as ‘Dr. Death’ may not seem like everyone’s idea of a great day out, the Body Worlds permanent exhibition in Berlin’s Menschen Museum has attracted an incredible number of visitors over the last few years.

 

The museum has attracted its fair share of controversy (it faced a court battle over the legality of its displays in 2014), but it has also become one of the most famous anatomical exhibitions ever, bringing enthusiasts to Berlin from all over the world.

 

Consisting of 20 human bodies, each posed in a different position and performing various activities and tasks, Body Worlds is famous for the way each of these models has been skinned and preserved, revealing all of the internal detail we never get to see, from the capillary structure to the musculature. While not for the faint-hearted, Body Worlds provides us with a fascinating glimpse inside the human body, both in life and death.

 

Museum of Mummies – Guanajuato, Mexico

With over 100 mummified bodies on permanent display, the Museum of Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico, is often labelled the most morbid museum in the world. While some minor embalming techniques were used to prepare the bodies, it’s actually the climate of the region that causes most of the mummification process, meaning the museum doesn’t have to go far to find its exhibits. In fact, nearly all of the mummies on display have been disinterred from the cemetery next to the museum and include a diverse array of individuals, including infants, Inquisition victims and criminals.

Museum of Mummies