Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Nameless

Poet-in-Residence recently visited an exhibition of paintings, including many paintings from World War I, by the Austrian artist Albin Egger-Lienz. The artist was assigned the task of recording military bravado during the four years of carnage; the idea being as in all previous conflicts to boldly illustrate the valiant and glorious action taking place on the field, for public consumption back home.
Egger-Lienz's patch was the Alpine region between Austria and Italy - the Dolomites. Many senseless deaths took place in those mountains. Unfortunately for the authorities Egger-Lienz painted the truth, and in its true colours. He produced masterpieces portraying the disaster of conflict and its negative effect on human dignity. To put it bluntly he didn't quite come up with the goods.
After the war he went to live in Italy where he remained until his death. A huge controversy reigned over a picture he painted for the War Chapel in his home town of Lienz. The Church of Rome decided to interdict and the Chapel was closed for religious services. Such are the ways of the Lord.
It was several decades before Rome relented and religious services were resumed in the chapel. Nowadays, because of Egger-Lienz's painting, it's something of a tourist attraction.
Poet-in-Residence has composed an Egger-Lienz poem (as an aide-memoire).

The Nameless
- title of painting by Albin Egger-Lienz

Within the immanence of death
the fighting man is alone
with his death
with his dance of death

amid the deformation of bodies

in the monochrome colouring of war
in the face of death's hush
in the dissolution
of the last consequence

symbolic sunbeams may shine
with immediacy and calmness
and there may descend
a cool detachment
and a new reality

there may arrive a time
for critical self-reflection
and quiet intimacy

but in the end
the warrior is bound
by life
and by death
and the order of generations

and when the warrior bodies
are piled in rigor mortis
as war's broken machinery
it is an admonishment
against the loss
of human dignity

'Sacrifice the dead
for a field of corpses!'
someone cries
but the cry is lost

tending hearths in luminal purity
in the depths of solace
bound-in with suffering
and desolation
the loyal wives
can raise only existential

c)- Gwilym Williams (2008)

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