The boundless and miraculous is what Vincent van Gogh believed we should all seek – and to be satisfied with nothing less. This is exactly what he achieved in his art, despite many profound difficulties which he recorded in his letters. These letters later became recognized for their literary virtues, such as simplicity, clarity, spontaneity and rich imagery.
Such qualities are among those most prized in poetry. In The Boundless and Miraculous, closely related extracts from Van Gogh’s letters are brought together to make ‘found poems’ – writing not originally intended to be a poem but reframed as such – here in the form of sonnets (see example overleaf). These record several pivotal moments in Van Gogh’s life, the content and tone reflecting his emotional state at such times.
The poems also encapsulate the development of Van Gogh’s artistic vision, notably the thought processes behind some of his most iconic paintings. Highlighted too are his thoughts on the work of other artists – his contemporaries and those who went before him.
The found poem (see sample below) can bring together elements from quite disparate parts of an individual letter that are united in theme. This often relates to a particular preoccupation of the artist at the time, which he kept returning to, perhaps over the course of quite a long letter dealing also with separate matters. Recurring frequently in the correspondence are the themes of simplicity and work (especially in the countryside), the great need for consolation and his thoughts on those artists he most admired.
The making of the found poems, and the particular form adopted – the sonnet in various guises – will provide the reader with a new frame of reference for the artist’s writing. This will in turn help encourage further readership of the wonderful letters, wherein the artist’s rhetorical argument, his thoughts and feelings, which these sonnets aim at conveying in their essence, may be found expressed in greater detail.
With 87 color plates, The Boundless and Miraculous celebrates Van Gogh’s spectacular art as well as his exquisite writing in what could be considered a series of brief autobiographical sketches. Aimed at all lovers of Van Gogh’s work, this volume will make a unique contribution to our understanding of his short and amazing life.
You must understand how I regard art.
One must work long and hard to arrive
at the truthful. What I want is damned difficult,
and yet I don’t believe I’m aiming too high.
I would like to reach the point where people
say of my work, that man feels deeply, feels subtly.
What am I in the eyes of most people?
A nonentity or an oddity.
Very well – assuming that, I’d like to show
what there is in the heart of such an oddity,
such a nobody. This is my ambition,
based less on resentment than on love.
Even though I’m often in a mess, inside me
there’s still a calm – pure harmony.