Van Gogh’s Ear

Am working on a translation of ‘Van Goghs øre’ from  ‘Lyden af skyer’



The unknown Vincent van Gogh
settles in the Yellow House in Arles
on the recommendation of his brother Theo,
Vincent paints under a wild sun,
is intoxicated by the landscape there.

There is no colour that does not exist
in the grass, in the grain, in the leaves on the trees,
everything moves in the wind,
colour and brush strokes show the power,
show the direction of movement.

Vincent the younger admires Paul Gauguin,
who has come to the same district, lives
in the same house, the anger
against him accelerates, Theo
is Paul’s dealer in Paris, Paul paints

the same landscapes, the same houses,
harvests of grapes and grain, the old wives,
scenes from the bar in Arles, blue trees, paints more freely
from imagination, Vincent
with short, powerful strokes
based on the specific object:
a field, a sunflower, a seedsman,
the reality he sees and hears,
nature, light, spirit, the ravages of the wind.

Vincent with tensed nerves, Vincent
with razor, Paul’s
directions for escape here, there, Paul
taken in for interrogation and forced confessions,
the bitterness shatters glass, shards
fly around,
poisonous shouting, drunken quarrelling,
the knife against Paul, the anger
chops the air.

Paul is the one with the strength, Vincent does not succeed
in assaulting his friend,
he hurts himself in defeat
instead, drawn
by an inner storm
into a blizzard of madness.

The rage hunts darkly, a spontaneous ignition
of reproaches must come out,
Vincent doesn’t just cut the lobe of an ear,
he cuts off his whole left ear,

hallucinated haze behind the eyes,
Vincent wraps the ear in newspaper,
hands it
to a maid at the brothel:
Take good care of this item.

The severed ear in bloody paper,
the severed ear hears nothing,

it does not hear that
immediately afterwards Paul
takes the train back to Paris.

The doctor Félix Rey at the hospital in Arles
draws in his notes the complete ear,
a dotted line shows how close to the head
the incision has gone.

Take care of this item,
on the front page of the local newspaper there is a report
dated December 30, 1898, about the incident,
where the young maid at the brothel passes out.

For personal reasons Vincent cut off
his own ear, Félix Rey writes to Vincent’s brother Theo,
Vincent has entrusted to the doctor
no further details about the motive.

After two weeks in the hospital Vincent
is back in the Yellow House,
mentally deranged,
one breakdown follows another,
only a glass too much helps him.

Vincent knows neither what he says
nor does, whom he curses, paints
sleepwalker-like two portraits of himself
with his head in a bandage,

paints a still life: onions on a plate
surrounded by a candle in a candle-holder, a box of matches,
an empty absinthe bottle, pipe and tobacco,
an envelope with a letter from Theo,
his only financial support,
a self-help book.

The sound can’t be cut away
by severing the outer ear,
the funnel catches and leads

the sound into the middle ear,
where it is amplified
and transmitted
to the inner ear.

Dissatisfied neighbours want Vincent
out of the Yellow House,
demand that he be sent to an asylum,

he voluntarily admits himself to the
Saint Paul de Mausole
Psychiatric Hospital
in Saint Rémy on May 8, 1889,

Vincent paints indoors, paints outside,
the best cure for him, the brush
ploughs out pictures
of the trees and plants of the garden, of the corridors
of the hospital,
the one-eyed man and other patients,
the colours swagger,
chrome yellow, emerald green, blue-violet,

when the seizures come,
he leaves brushes and tubes of paint alone.

One year and many pictures later
Vincent leaves Saint Rémy,
moves to Auvers near Theo, paints

his last works with violently nervous strokes,
the brush sways uneasily, colours swirl
whiteness forth, panic,
writes to Theo:
My life has been attacked at the very root.

Screams his emotions out on the canvas,
paints over the edge in a roar,
steered by light,
a spiral of nothing,

lets the paintings be
the paintings they are,
four months later takes
his own life
to at last be free
of himself.

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