(The letter-numbers are those of the "Complete Letters" edition)
Twilight is falling, and the view of the yard from my window is simply wonderful, with that little avenue of poplars-- their slender forms and thin branches stand out so delicately against the gray evening sky; and then the old arsenal building in the water--quiet as "the waters of the old pool" mentioned in the Book of Isaiah-- down by the waterside the walls of that arsenal are quite green and weather-beaten. Farther down is the little garden and the fence around it with the rosebushes, and everywhere in the yard the black figures of the workmen, and also the little dog
l. 115, 4 December 1877
When one has many things to think of and to do, one sometimes gets the feeling, Where am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? and one's brain reels. But then a well-known voice such as yours, or rather a well-known handwriting, makes one feel firm ground under one's feet again.
l. 116, 9 December 1877
If only we try to live sincerely,it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and shall also probably commit great errors and do wrong things; but it certainly is true that it is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and overprudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies true strength; whosoever loves much, performs and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.
l. 121, 3 April 1878
There are some places here -- thank God one finds them everywhere-- where one feels more at home than anywhere else, where one gets a strangely old feeling tinged with bitter melancholy almost like homesickness; yet it stimulates us, encourages adn cheers the spirit, and gives us -- we do not know how or why -- new strength and ardor for our work
l. 126, 15 November 1878
As molting time--when they change their feathers-- is for birds, so adversity or misfortune is teh difficult tim for us human beings. One can stay in it--in that time of molting--one can also emerge renewed; but anyhow it must not be done in public and it is not at all amusing, therefore the only thing to do is to hide oneself. Well, so be it.
Must I consider myself a dangerous man, incapable of anything? I don't think so. But the problem is to try every means to put those selfsame passions to good use.
If there has been any change at all, it is that I think and believe and love more seriously now what I already thought and believed and loved then.
l. 133, July 1880
(this entire letter is absolutely worth reading)
Let the storm rise, the night descend -- which is worse, danger or the fear of danger? Personally, I prefer reality, the danger itself.
l. 193, (spring 1882)
I also believe that it may happen that one succeeds after all, and one must not begin to despair, even though one is defeated occasionally, and even though one sometimes feels a kind of exhaustion; it is necessary to take heart again and new courage, even though things go differently than one at first expected
l. 237 (fall 1882)
(T)he result must be an action
, not an abstract idea
l. 237 (fall 1882)
--all nature seems to speak --
l. 248 (fall 1882)
As for me, I cannot understand why everybody does not see it and feel it; nature or God does it for everyone who has eyes and ears and a heart to understand
l. 248 (fall 1882)
You will say that everybody has seen landscapes and figures from childhood on. The question is, Has everybody also been thoughtful as a child, has everybody who has seen them really loved
he heath, fields, meadows, woods, and the snow and the rain and the storm
l. 251 (late 1882)
(quoting Theo) "Earnestness is better than irony, no matter how sharp and witty it is."
l. 251 (late 1882)
I want something more concise, more simple, more serious; I want more soul and more love and more heart.
l. 252 (late 1882)
(the context is in contrast to materialism and some of the art that was seeing commercial success)
Many people care more about the outer than the inner life of a family, thinking they act well in doing so. Society is full of them: people striving to make a show instead of leading a true existence. I repeat, These people are not bad, but they are foolish.
l. 281 (spring 1883)
These very spots where nothing is left of what one calls civilization, where all that is definitly left behind, these very spots are those one needs to get calmed down.
l. 307 (mid-year 1883)
Let me tell you, brother, that I myself experienced so deeply, so very deeply what you say there. That I have been through a period of nervous, arid over-straining -- there were days when I could not see anything in the most beautiful landscape just because I did not feel myself part of it. It is the street and the office and the care and the nerves that make it so.
Do not be angry with me when I say that at this moment your soul is sick - it is true, you know; it is not right for you not to feel yourself part of nature, and I think the most important thing is to restore that.
l. 332 (fall 1883)
I ask, What will make me more completely human? Zola says, "Moi artiste, je veux vivre tout haut - veux vivre
" [I, an artist, want to live out loud - (I) want to live"
, without mental reservation--naive as a child, no not as a child, as an artist-- with good will, however life presents itself, I shall find something in it, I will try my best on it
l. 336 (fall 1883)
How fundamentally wrong is the man who doesn't feel himself small, who doesn't realize he is but an atom.
l. 336 (fall 1883)
The ride into the village was so beautiful. Enormous mossy roofs of houses, stables, covered sheepfolds, barns. The very broad-fronted houses here are set among oak trees of a superb bronze. Tones in the moss of gold-green, in the ground of reddish or bluish or yellowish dark lilac-greys, tones of inexpressible purity in the green of the little cornfields, tones of black in the wet tree trunks, standing out against the golden rain of swirling, teeming autumn leaves, which hang in loose clumps - as if they had been blown there, loose and with the light filtering through them - from the poplars, the birches, the limes and the apple trees.
The sky smooth and bright, shining, not white but a barely detectable lilac, white vibrant with red, blue and yellow, reflecting everything and felt everywhere above one, hazy and merging with the thin mist below, fusing everything in a gamut of delicate greys.
I could not find a single painter in Zweeloo, however, and people said they never turn up in the winter. Whereas I, on the contrary, hope to be there this winter. Since there were no painters, I decided not to wait for my landlord's return, but to walk back instead and do some drawings on the way. So I began to make a sketch of the little apple orchard where Liebermann did his large painting. And then back along the road we had driven down early in the morning. Right now the whole area round Zweeloo is nothing but young corn, sometimes as far as the eye can see, the greenest of greens I know. With a sky above of a delicate lilac-white producing an effect I think cannot be painted, but which, as I see it, is the keynote one must understand in order to find the key to other effects.
A black stretch of earth, flat, unending, a clear sky of delicate lilac-white. The earth sprouts that young corn as if growing a mould of it. That's what the good, fertile lands of Drenthe really are - and all in a misty atmosphere. Think of Brion's Le dernier jour de la création - well, yesterday it felt as if I understood the meaning of that painting. The poor soil of Drenthe is the same, except that the black earth is even blacker - like soot - not lilac-black like the furrows, and overgrown in a melancholy way with perpetually rotting heather and peat.
I notice it everywhere - chance effects on that infinite background: in the peat moors, the turf huts; in the fertile areas, those most primitive hulks of farmhouses and sheepfolds with low, very low little walls and enormous mossy roofs. Oak trees all round them. When one has walked through that country for hours and hours, one feels that there really is nothing but that infinite earth, that mould of corn or heather, that infinite sky. Horses and men seem no larger than fleas. One is unaware of anything else, however large it may be in itself; one knows only that there is earth and sky.
However, in one's capacity of a little speck watching other little specks - leaving the infinite aside - one discovers that every little speck is a Millet. I passed a little old church, exactly, but exactly like The Church at Gréville in Millet's little painting in the Luxembourg. Here, instead of the small peasant with his spade, though, there was here a shepherd with a flock of sheep walking along the hedge. In the background was a vista, not of the sea, but of a sea of young corn, a sea of furrows instead of waves. The effect produced was the same. Then I saw ploughmen, hard at work, a sand cart, shepherds, road menders, dung carts. In a small roadside inn, I drew a little old woman at her spinning wheel, a small dark silhouette out of a fairy tale - a small dark silhouette against a bright window through which one saw the bright sky and a little path through the delicate green, and a few geese pecking at the grass.
And then when twilight fell-- imagine the silence, the peace of it all!
Imagine then a short avenue of tall poplars with autumn leaves, imagine a wide muddy road, all black mud, with heath stretching to infinity on the right, heath stretching to infinity on the left, a couple of black triangular silhouettes of sod-built huts, the red glow from small fires shining through the small windows, with a few pools of dirty, yellowish water reflecting the sky, in which fallen trees lie rotting into peat. Imagine that sea of mud at dusk with a whitish sky overhead, thus everything black against white. And in that sea of mud a shaggy figure - the shepherd - and a mass of oval shapes, half wool, half mud, jostling one another, pushing one another out of the way - the flock. You see them coming, you stand in their midst, you turn around and follow them. Laboriously and reluctantly they work their way up the muddy road. The farm beckons in the distance, a few mossy roofs and piles of straw and peat among the poplars. The sheepfold is again like the silhouette of a triangle, the entrance dark. The door stands wide open like a dark cave. The light of the sky glimmers once more through the chinks of the boards behind it. The whole caravan, masses of wool and mud, disappears into that cave - the shepherd and a little woman with a lantern shut the doors behind them.
That return of the flock in the twilight was the finale of the symphony I heard yesterday.
The day passed like a dream, I had been so immersed in that heart-rending music all day that I had literally forgotten to eat and drink - I had had a slice of black bread and a cup of coffee in the little inn where I had drawn the spinning wheel. The day was over and from dawn till dusk, or rather from one night till the next, I had lost myself in that symphony.
l. 340 (November 1883)
Whether they understand me or not, whether I am judged rightly or wrongly, leaves me unchanged.
l. 346 (December 1883)
Opinions can as little change certain standard truths as weathervanes can change the direction of the wind. The weathervanes do not make the wind east or north, nor can opinions make truth true.
The half-ripe cornfields are at present of a dark golden tone, ruddy or gold bronze. This is raised to maximum of effect by the contrast with the broken cobalt tone of the sky.
Spring is tender, green young corn and pink apple blossoms.
Autumn is the contrast of the yellow leaves with violet tones.
Winter is the snow with black silhouettes.
But now, if summer is the contrast of blues with an element of orange in the golden bronze of the corn, one could paint a picture which expressed the mood the seasons in each of the contrasts of the complementary colors (red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet, white and black).
l. 372 July 1884
Life is not long for anybody, and the problem is only to make something of it.
I try more and more to be myself, caring relatively little whether people approve or disapprove of it.
Enthusiasm sometimes calculates even better than those cool heads which reckon themselves "above such things." And instinct, inspiration, impulse, and conscience are better guides than many people think
In the fullness of artistic life there is, and remains, and will always come back at times, that homesick longing for the truly ideal life that can never come true.
One night I went for a walk by the sea along teh empty shore. It was not cheerful, but neither was it sad-- it was-- beautiful. The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a blue deeper than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. Int the blue depth of the stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant more sparklingly gemlike than at home-- even in Paris: opals you might call them, emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires. The sea was very deep ultramarine--the shore a sort of violet and faint russet as I saw it, and on the dunes (they are about seventeen feet high) some bushes Prussian blue.
l. 499 (June 1888)
For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoningis that we cannot et to a star while we are alive, any more than we can take the train when we are dead.
Life is short, and shorter still, the number of years you feel bold enough to face everything.
I have a terrible lucidity at moments, these days when natureis so beautiful, I am not conscious of myself any more.
I always feel I am a traveler, going somewhere and to some destination. If I tell myself that the somewhere and the destination do not exist, that seems to me very reasonable and likely enough. l. 518
... to feel the stars and the infinite high and clear above you. Then life is almost enchanted after all. Oh! those who don't believe in this sun here are real infidels. l. 520
How can Gauguin pretend that he was afraid of upsetting me by his presence, when he can hardly deny that he knew I kept asking for him continually, and that he was told over and over again that I insisted on seeing him at once. l. 571
(later, fear of poisoning)
The unfortunate thing is that I am rather inclined to be affected by the beliefs of others, and to feel them myself, and I cannot always laugh at whatever foundation of truth there may be in the absurdity. l. 577
These last three months do seem so strange to me. Sometimes moods of indescribable mental anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and the fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant. l. 582
...A man who is neither embittered, nor sad, nor perfect, nor happy, nor always irreproachable just. But such a good soul and so wise and so full of feeling and trustful. l. 583 (about Roulin)
I feel deeply that this has been at work within me for a very long time already, and that other people, seeing symptoms of mental derangement, have naturally had apprehensions better founded than my unfounded certainty that I was thinking normally, which was not the case. So that has much softened many of the judgments which I have too often passed with more or less presumption on people who nevertheless were wishing me well. l. 586
Then memories overwhelmed me like an avalanche..., until I was as homesick as a lost dog. Which does no good, because our way lies forward, and retracing one's steps is forbidden and impossible. I mean, we can think about the past without letting ourselves be drowned in too sad a longing. l. 604
Grief must not gather in our heart like water in a swamp. l. 607
But during the attacks it is terrible-- and then I lose consciousness of everything. l. 610
It seems that what matters is that one should learn to want to go on living, even when suffering. Oh, I feel so cowardly in this respect; even when my health has returned, I am still afraid. So who am I to encourage others, you will say, for actually this is hardly my style. Well, it is only to tell you, my dear friends, that I hope so ardently, and even dare believe, that Mrs. Ginoux's illness will be of very short duration, and that she will rise from her sickbed a much stronger fellow, but she knows only too well how fond we all are of her, and how much we wish to see her in good health. l. 622a
(The two men are) rustic at heart ...with a certain innate sweetness of far-off fields... l. 625