Starry, starry night

Was listening to car radio and Starry, Starry Night came on. I think this has got to be my favourite song of all time. Not so much because of the music or the singer, but because of the poetry of the words and what it evokes in me.

Someone, a long time ago – before the 1950s – framed a great many cheap van Gogh prints and hung them on the walls of Perth Modern School. That was my introduction to so much of the painter’s work. Yes, they were appalling reproductions, but they stirred me. If lessons were boring, I could glance up and see those faces, those fields, that starry, starry night. I could feel the wind, smell the hay, watch the clouds tossing.

Time passed and I went to Europe for the first time, and then again many times. Wherever I went, I sought out the van Gogh paintings in the museums. My second visit was with my sister, who went through those same classrooms before I did, and knew all the same paintings. And how much better they were in real life!

So now, when I hear the words of that song, I think of my childhood and my European excursions, I remember those paintings. I recall the light of the south of France around Arles, and yes, the morning fields of amber grain, swirling clouds in violet haze, colours on the snowy linen land…

But there is so much more in the words, too. There is the touching story of a tormented man, his loving brother, and the agony of those left behind when someone suicides. There is the pain of being misunderstood, of suffering the contempt of others; the isolation of being ahead of one’s time. He painted his tormented soul, and yet recorded beauty and movement and a song of life.

If I could have but one painting on my wall, one of all the great artists of the world, it would be a Vincent van Gogh, an outdoor scene – with clouds.

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