This poem appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.
Vincent van Gogh
oil on canvas, 1889
On fire with zeal to save the lost, Van Gogh
Slept on a mat of straw and preached to poor
Coal miners, their kin, and others of low
Estate. Yet sensing life had something more
In store for him, he left that world behind
To study form, anatomy; his art
Could lead to God as well as words. A mind
Could bend toward heaven, following the heart
Into a flower bursting with the sun.
In later years he would hallucinate,
Yet still pursued his goal in an asylum,
And dreaming dreams transcendent he would paint
White clouds, a crescent moon, eleven stars
Ablaze with light, reflecting whose they are.
And it does me good to do difficult things.
That does not prevent me from having a
terrible need of—shall I say the word?—of
religion. Then I go out at night to
paint the stars . . .
—Letter from Vincent to his brother Theo