Life

by Anna Vaninskaya:

Somewhere once I saw a picture:
All was dark save on the right, in the corner,
In the light cast by one unhappy candle,
Leant a man against the handle of a painted wooden door,
And his shadow on the floor sideways stretched
Until it faded into darkness, darkly shaded.
Peter Lint,’ the frame proclaimed, ‘Flemish artist, widely famed.’

‘That is wrong,’a voice behind me softly whispered,
‘It reminds me of an early Marcus Stone…
But the artist is unknown -’

Not to me were those words spoken, not for me the silence broken,
And I dared not stir or turn, hoping something more to learn.
‘- Though the subject of that picture, here set forth with greyish tincture,
Is a man of wide renown – now…
You see his sullen frown?
He was born well nigh three hundred years ago,
He knew but one dread all his days:
To die and leave no live soul behind to grieve.

For the man was poor and lonely, without friend or child,
Only barren longings shared his bed or disturbed the life he led.
Years he spent in isolation,
Taxing his imagination with the queerest, wildest schemes,
With the most grotesque of dreams.
In his workshop he constructed forms mechanical –
Distracted, crazed at times, he paced till dawn,
Till the flowers on the lawn raised their heads to greet the morning.
He saw nothing.
In his mourning – his contraptions dead around him –
Well he knew that they would hound him to his own grave at last.
None would care if his life passed.

Then one night in desperation mingled with a strange elation,
He decided to create Life itself to cheat his fate.
If no human being would take him,
If all chose to forsake him,
If the works of his own hand failed to grant his one demand,
Surely then no god or devil, angel good or demon evil,
Would dare judge him or accuse
Of usurping to abuse powers not granted him by nature.
He would use his skill to capture that ethereal flame or breath
That gives life and conquers death.

From that moment his strange story passes into legend hoary:
Some say he achieved his goal, though he paid a heavy toll,
Others that he perished trying,
Punished for his daring flying Icarus-like too near the sun.
Either way he is long gone.

But if you who stand here gazing at the picture,
Slowly phrasing to yourself this man’s sad tale,
Should some other time regale other listeners with his story,
Think on this and be not sorry:
Three long centuries have passed and his memory still lasts.’

At these words I turned around,
Keen to catch the fading sound in the gathering evening gloom.
There was no one in the room.

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