Death Be Not Enervating

[The instant I finished reading this post by Duane Kelly on his blog, Lapis Loquens, I emailed him to see if he’d let me post it here. He graciously agreed. I related to his post because A Life’s Work would not have come about were it not for death. Some people think that’s morbid. I’m not one of them, though.]

I often think about death. Some reasons are my father’s early death, my daily writing work and my agnostic uncertainty about the hereafter. I also suspect that it’s just the warp of my basic personality to keep mortality mounted on a prominent easel.

My hunch is that most people view most people who dwell on death as suffering from sapped ambition and pleasure, shuffling through their dank days despondent and morose. Not the best company at a dinner party.

But rarely is that the effect on me. This musing was prompted by a painting I recently stumbled on. Created in 1872 by Arnold Böcklin, a Swiss artist, it is titled “Self-Portrait with Death.”

The colors are dark, at least in reproduction, so I’ll briefly describe the work. Böcklin is showing himself at work as a painter. (It’s curious that most self-portraits of painters don’t depict themselves actually painting.) He holds a palette in his left hand and a brush in the right as he studies the canvas (positioned where we the viewer are). However his attention is divided. Besides seeing the canvas he listens to music coming from somewhere over his left shoulder. The musician is Death, who instead of shoving the artist into despair or dragging him off to another world, concentrates on playing a violin. The music is not unpleasant and Bocklin cocks an ear toward it.

Böcklin has painted Death as artistic inspiration and a spur to work. This is commonly my internal experience of reflecting on death, dying, mortality, the all too quick passing of time. I don’t know anything about this 19th century Swiss painter but when I saw this painting I felt an immediate affinity.

Duane is a playwright, short story writer, and blogger based in Seattle.

4 Replies to “Death Be Not Enervating”

  1. So, the message to procrastinators like me, get your work done and don’t dawdle, not because your deadline is approaching, but because death is approaching!

    1. The BIG deadline is always there, in the background. Dawdle now and regret later.

      Now excuse me while I find a new way to procrastinate and do something other than work on this film.

  2. oooh one of my favorite subjects…since i have an insatiable desire to understand WHY etc. i am sort of looking forward to the big mystery….so exciting. Am rather hoping things turn out to be sort of sex, drugs, and rock n roll! hows the project going? such a clever idea!

    1. Josephine! I’m so happy to see you around here again. Yes, I’m with you on the hereafter. Though I’m kind of like Mark Shrimpton, the doomed drummer of Spinal Tap. “As long as there’s, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.” (Joking, joking. Rock and roll is very important.)

      Slow going. Editing, and of course trying to raise money to finish this beast.

      And how’s the painting going?

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