AN EALA BHAN (THE WHITE SWAN) ACRYLICS ON CEDAR W/RED OAK FRAME WINTER 2016
Spring is rapidly arriving in the Skagit Valley and the daffodil fields are awash in brilliant yellows. It’s only a matter of time when the tulip fields will return to their glory. It is a time of rejuvenation, hope, and pure joy. However one aspect of spring brings with it regret as the departure of the beautifully white swans is imminent. It’s sad to see the swans (and snow geese) leave, not to return in such great numbers until the fall. We will miss their calls that fill the morning air as they move between the fields. This reminded me of one of the most beautiful Scottish Gaelic songs written to the words of noted World War I poet Donald MacDonald (also known as Red Donald of Coruna). There is a long and illustrious poetic tradition in Gaelic culture and poets are highly respected. MacDonald’s famous poem “An Eala Bhan”, or “The White Swan”, written from the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, seemed to fit my feeling of sadness in knowing the swans are leaving for the season. This song has been sung by many fine singers of the Gaelic, but my favorite versions are those by Karen Matheson and Julie Fowlis. They all inspired me to paint a picture of swans flying away in the moonlight. I included a line in Celtic script from the poem:
'S an eala bhàn tha tàmh ann And the white swan dwelling there Gach latha air 'm bheil mi 'n tòir Whom I daily pursue.
This painting incorporates all three of the main cultural influences that constitute my personal style. The moon is a Celtic spiral design adapted from the Lindisfarne Gospels and the script is a modern modification of lettering from the Book of Kells. For both, George Bain’s Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction was extremely helpful. The swan designs are strongly influenced by Northwest Coast Native art. Finally the asymmetrical composition, the extensive use of silver and copper, and the poetic inclusion were influences from the Japanese paintings of the Rinpa School. I made the frame for this painting out of red oak using pegged, hand-joined, mortise-and-tenon construction methods. I used the Japanese technique (shou-sugi-ban) of charring and oiling the oak to finish the frame.
DIMENSIONS: HEIGHT: 22 ¾ inches WIDTH: 20 ½ inches
Sad I consider my condition With my heart engaged with sorrow From the very time that I left The high bens of the mist The little glens of dalliance Of the lochs, the bays and the forelands And the white swan dwelling there Whom I daily pursue.
O Maggie, don't be sad Love, if I should die - Who among men Endures eternally? We are all only on a journey Like flowers in the deserted cattle fold That the year's wind and rain will bring down And that the sun cannot raise.
All the ground around me Is like hail in the heavens; With the shells exploding - I am blinded by smoke: My ears are deafened By the roar of the cannon; But despite the savagery of the moment My thoughts are on the girl called MacLeod.
Crouched in the trenches My mind is fixed on you, love; In sleep I dream of you I am not fated to survive; My spirit is filled With a surfeit of longing And my hair once so auburn Is now almost white.
But if it should happen That I am killed in France And laid in the grave As thousands are already, My blessings go with the maiden, So noble and fair. May her every day be free of care, And her life a source of pride.
Goodnight to you, love In your warm, sweet-smelling bed; May you have peaceful sleep and afterwards May you waken healthy and in good spirits. I am here in the cold trench With the clamour of death in my ears With no hope of returning victorious- The ocean is too wide to swim.