Saturday, 29 November 2014

Mr. Turner, Master of Light (1775 - 1851)

William Turner was present at a demonstration of a needle being magnetized using violet light. First the sunlight shining through the window was divided into its 7 colours. The resulting 'rainbow' fell onto a canvas which had been set up.  The needle was wrapped in a cloth and pounded with a hammer until the atoms were in complete disorder and the needle was no longer magnetic. The needle was placed in the violet band of the spectrum. After some time had elapsed it was discovered that the needle had re-magnetized itself. It was then revealed that a needle placed in the red part of the spectrum failed to achieve this seemingly impossible feat. The artist was suitably impressed. 

Turner spent his life looking at sunlight and reflections of light with particular regard to the quality of the light off the sea. When he was dying, in the presence of his doctor, he articulated his final thought: The Sun is God

Today we know that the sun is just one ordinary star amongst uncountable billions of stars. Someone has calculated that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the whole world. Stars are born in clouds of gas known nebulae. Stars, like ourselves, are born to live and die. From the debris of their explosive deaths yet more stars are born; born to shine and then to die. It is an endless ongoing process. 

Watching Timothy Spall playing the role of Mr. Turner brought to my mind the poems of Dylan Thomas; a poet, who was, like Turner, greatly inspired by the presence of the sea directly outside his window. 

And I recalled the poems, those with titles like How soon the servant sun, Foster the light, and others. 

As a personal tribute to William Turner who bequeathed all his works to the British nation, and for those who created the wonderful film I saw yesterday, I can think of nothing more fitting than these few selected words from Dylan Thomas's final poem, his suitably unfinished(?) Elegy.


. . .

A cold, kind man brave in his burning pride

On that darkest day. Oh, forever may
He live lightly, at last, on the last, crossed 
Hill, and there grow young, under the grass, in love,

Among the long flocks, and never lie lost

. . .

        his poor hand I held, and I saw
Through his faded eyes to the roots of the sea.
Go calm to your crucifixed hill, I told 

The air that drew away from him. 


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