WORDS OF HOPE // FRIDAY, SEPT 29 9:00-10:50AM (RM 201)

Vincent van Gogh and the Poetic Principle
Sharon Fish Mooney

Vincent van Gogh was well acquainted with poetic knowledge nonanalytically expressed on the canvases of other painters. “Yes, that painting by Millet, The Evening Angelus…that’s rich, that’s poetry,” he wrote his brother. Encountering Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride, Van Gogh noted that Rembrandt went “so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language.”

James Taylor tells us that poetic knowledge is the opposite of scientific knowledge in the empirical, quantifiable and didactical sense. Van Gogh would have agreed. He saw “infinite poetry" and “so much soul and mysterious endeavor in nature” and wrote that “Poetry surrounds us everywhere.” Van Gogh’s chief desire was to make others aware of that unquantifiable mystery of the universe that resided not only in seasons and sunsets but in people like the potato eaters, or a weaver at his spinning wheel, “serious subjects and so difficult, but so beautiful too that it’s well worth the trouble of devoting one’s life to depicting the poetry that’s in them.”

Poetic knowledge is not fact-based but faith-based. Taylor wrote that contemplation of human experience or of man-made things can lead us to contemplation of the Divine. Sitting beside the bedside of the woman he loved and her newborn in a cradle, Van Gogh reflected on “the eternal poetry of the Christmas night with the baby in a manger … a brightness in the midst of a dark night.” “I think,” he wrote, “there is no better place for meditation than by a rustic earth and an old cradle with a baby in it”; and then, he painted it.

In my presentation I will reflect on Van Gogh’s poetic understanding of the world through his letter excerpts, slides of his paintings, and my own ekphrastic poetry in response to his art.


Sharon Fish Mooney is the author of Bending Toward Heaven, Poems After the Art of Vincent van Gogh (Wipf and Stock, 2016), poetry columnist/editor for the Journal of Christian Nursing, and editor of A Rustling and Waking Within (OPA Press, 2017), an anthology of ekphrastic poems. She has presented lectures on poetry and the arts in the USA, Canada and the Netherlands and at the Arts in Society Conference, Paris, France. She won the inaugural Robert Frost Farm Prize for metrical poetry. Her ekphrastic poems have appeared in Rattle, First Things, Modern Age, The Lost Country, and several anthologies.