FIGURES OF SPEECH

…..In southwestern France there is a famous complex of caves known as the Caverns of Lascaux.  Here were discovered some 600 exquisite painted portraits, mostly of animals once native to the area.  These images adorn the cavern walls and ceilings with renderings of stunning vitality.  The artists are thought to have lived during the Old Stone Age some 17,000 years ago and to have spanned multiple generations.  They also left painted impressions of their handprints on the walls.

…..These paintings have been widely regarded with wonder and admiration because of their size, detail and their uncanny sophistication in conveying the essential presence of their subjects.  They are beautiful and they are eloquent.  In some ways they reveal as much about the artists as they do about their subjects.  Yet still they are mysterious.

…..Was this a place of worship?  Was it reverence, or hope for future sustenance that motivated their creation?  We can’t know for sure.  Could the artists speak?  And if they did possess a language, could it convey subtlety and nuance?  Certainly, the impulse to express themselves is clearly on display here.  The figures on the wall act as a form of speech.  It is a silent language that connects the spirit of the artist with the observer.

…..Such thoughts evoke in me a sense of an ephemeral reality that you might call the “isness” of our spiritual being.  I am speaking of that inner source from which all our expression emanates, where all human impulses and thoughts are born before ideas are processed into words or other forms of expression.  The presence of the “person” behind the person.  I will call this source our essence, for lack of a better word.  Something that exists in the untouchable ether of psychic space.  Others would call this our spirit or soul. It is weightless, something that is real but not physical in a tactile sense.

…..The phenomenon of focused self-awareness we call consciousness is as much in existence as anything you might hold in your hand.  Perhaps like all “things” this essence and consciousness have a quantifiable presence composed of atoms and electrons as we have come to describe all things material in this, the twenty first century.  I would liken essence metaphorically to a spiritual cloud from which consciousness arises. It forms in each individual a unique identity that simultaneously inhabits time and space with the other beings then in existence.

…..In these caverns at Lascaux, the common wellspring of humanity within us is revealed.  For such inspired artistic expression exposes the kindredness of all our human hearts.  The out- lines of the painters’ hands form poignant signatures.  On the stone walls we can behold the passage of creative potential from one generation to another for it is surmised that this project took longer than a single lifetime to accomplish.  The generational passage will continue on through our children and then through theirs.

…..This is great art, for the paintings are not only magnificent renderings of the forms of the creatures they portray but these Stone Age artists have somehow captured and conveyed a sense of their subject’s essence. They certainly stand tall beside the best of the modern primitivists.  All of this was at play at the dawn of human history.  That legacy is truly remarkable.

 

 

 

FIGURES OF SPEECH

( PAINTINGS IN THE CAVERNS AT LASCAUX )

 

It was the dawn that broke the silence

Sweeping back the muted mist of eons

And as the paint flows from the palette

Like an utterance of words

So forms took shape on these torchlit walls

To the thunder of the spirit herd

 

What souls have left their traces here to resonate with ours

What impulse prearticulate drove the artist’s hand

Draws the music from the harp

Leaps and whirls in dance

 

This impulse to be human

With the grace to understand

 

Expression from the seed ascends

From root to flowering crown

‘Til at its crest the artist’s jewel

Essence as transfigured light

Emerges from the lantern glass

Of luminescent beings

To gird the soul with sustenance

And elevate the mind

 

Treasure then these emblems

The trove we leave behind

Metaphoric artifacts

Of the human kind

 

INDEX