An Oliver Wendell Holmes Kind of Day

Still Life Set Up

Still Life Set Up

Resulting Watercolor

Resulting Watercolor

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
   Sails the unshadowed main,—
   The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
   And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
   Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
   And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
   Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
   That spread his lustrous coil;
   Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
   Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
   Child of the wandering sea,
   Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
   While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
   As the swift seasons roll!
   Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
   Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., “The Chambered Nautilus”

What a nice, leisure Saturday. A day with no appointments, no deadlines. Yesterday evening, I set up a few shells and the “Mermaid’s Wine Cup” algae specimen given me by new friends from the Biology Dept. of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. As I stared into that tangle of dried grasses topped by small green “cups”, I became engrossed in their design and tried to find a way to translate this onto paper. After working on the mermaid’s cups, I flowed some washes and salted the background, then retired for the night.

Today, looking at the collection of shells with fresh eyes, I found myself wanting to look very, very closely at their constructions and their nuances in colors. The longer I looked into them, the more engrossed I became, and thought about those tiny microcosmic worlds beneath the salt water to which we humans pay no attention in the midst of our agenda-driven lives. I thought of Oliver Wendell Holmes and pulled his poem from the shelf. Wow, “the outgrown shell.” What a powerful metaphor! I also love the charge: “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!” Immediately my mind went back to the thought in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Circles.” He says that our lives are a series of self-evolving circles, all the time pushing the horizon further and further back. Our task, he said, is to draw a larger circle.

I am filled with joy that the school term is behind me and a summer stretches before me now, inviting me to expand my circle, to read another book, think another thought, create another work of art. The truly eduated never graduate. The drive within us is to improve, to grow. Aristotle opened his Metaphysics with “Each person by nature desires to know.” Immanuel Kant challenged readers with his essay “What is Enlightenment” with “Sapere aude!” Dare to know! There are uncharted waters stretching out before us, and last week as I daily looked across those waters, I wanted to respond to the challenge. Now that I’ve returned to my domestic familiarity, I don’t want to become complacent, don’t want to stop. It feels good to explore, and it feels even better to feel that inspired challenge rising from the chambered nautilus.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Still Wondering Over This One

Still Wondering Over This One

P.S. I’ve posted this just to remind readers that it is still there, still unfinished, and I’m still gazing at it every day, wondering what exactly to do next. I’m not going to touch it again until I have a better idea of what to do. It may be waiting only for my signature.

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2 Responses to “An Oliver Wendell Holmes Kind of Day”

  1. Xraypics Says:

    The contrast between bare white sand below, detail in the drifts of greenery with wild flowers, and cloud dotted blue above is so striking it’s hard to know what more could be done to this picture. No wonder you are at an impasse. I’m fascinated to see how you solve this.


    • davidtripp Says:

      Wow, thank you, Tony. I’m looking at it every day, but haven’t decided yet what to do. I do love these moments of decision in painting, and in bit add upright about them as I was 20 years ago.


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