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April 2013, vol 9, no 1

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Steven Carter

Van Gogh’s Wheat Field and Cypress Trees

A New Yorker cartoon depicts a bandage-swathed Van Gogh on crutches, his ear bandaged of course. An arm and a leg are also missing.

“Good news, Vincent,” brother Theo looks up from reading a letter. “She really liked the leg.”

How do I love thee? Vincent quotes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning—this in a letter to Cousin Kay. Let me count the ways.

. . . Not a good idea, Vince. In love, what is added may also be subtracted.


A narrow wheat field wends across the picture plane left to right: a river of yellow if you like—but also the yellow brick road leading to an anti-Oz of madness.


Playful as dolphins—a few actually look like dolphins—the clouds seem to smile down on a row of blue hills resembling them in brushstroke and texture.


A few slap-dash poppies are sprinkled in the foreground—drops of Vincent’s blood, soon to be shed in a field of nightmares?


The cypress tree flips the wheat field’s undulating brushstrokes upward, toward the grays, pale greens and paler blues of a sheltering sky—

soft yellow sun—
sudden urge
to touch nettles