the second fall

Back to the archive today, and another Mari Lwyd drawing, this one titled The Second Fall. Beneath it is Catriona Urqhuart’s poem Pegasus, made as the text for the drawing when it was shown in my 2001 exhibition at Newport Museum and Art Gallery, The Mare’s Tale. This was the only poem in the sequence that was written in Catriona’s voice, and it’s a letter to her friend and my father, Trevor. While the title of the poem is explained within it, that of the drawing is more enigmatic. It refers to the fact that twice during his last illness my father fell from his bed. The second fall was traumatic and humiliating for him, and heralded the decline that led very quickly to his death.


You came back in June
full of the wonders of Virginia
and the Blue Ridge.

We tackled the tomatoes:
when and how to feed;
‘only when the first truss sets’,
and watering;
‘don’t let them drown’;

debated on the merits
of simply lopping off dead roses
as against a careful prune above new eyes;

how early and how late.
Your arguments won out,
experience more telling than a manual’s dictate.

In August, you came here every day
to keep your eye on things
while we holidayed away.
Temperatures soared.

Now you are ill suddenly,
in a narrow hospital bed.

You’re struggling,
tucked taut as a bud of balsam,
eyes trusting, innocent as bluebells.

‘How did I get this? Where did it come from?’
My chest tightens with the love I bear you
but I only shake my head

and proffer gifts: Fred Hando’s Journeys in Gwent,
a bunch of bright anemones,
a flask of home-made soup.

You take a mouthful just to please me;
you have no strength to lift a book.
Journeys are inner now my brave Odysseus,

and you are drowning.
I plunder mythologies for meaning.
What stalks your strangled senses, tussling the sheet?

Is it the Mari still? Is it careering there?
Or are you now wild Neptune
thrashing down sea horses, trident at your feet?

I pray for Pegasus to wing you clear.

Monitors bleep,
sonar soundings of the depths you swim in now.
Unfathomable seas.

Sometimes you make a strike for shore
and surface, desperate, panting, glazed;
then sink back crushed

by time’s slow snake
and how long it takes
to make a promised place.

All that Autumn the plants you’d watered for me
bloomed to bursting;
your pruning and pinching out bore fruit.

Bishop of Llandaff flamed till Christmas;
tomatoes, peppers, filled bowls and jars for weeks;
cuttings took root.

Catriona Urqhuart 2001

Reproduced with the kind permission of the poet’s estate.

17 thoughts on “the second fall

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  7. I find all of your Mari Lwyd drawings powerful and wrenching – this one, with those ominous shadows, particularly so. Catriona’s ‘Pegasus’ is a beautiful counterpoint, I discover more in it with each reading.

    • Philippa, I go for quite long periods without reading the poem sequence, but then return to it and find myself caught up all over again in how beautifully she captured ideas.

      The drawing was acquired by friends who live in Cardiff, and so I get to see it from time to time. Re. the shadows, I was thinking of those fast moving flight-of-bird shadows that pass so quickly, by the time you look around whatever caused them has passed. Restless air. That was the ‘sense’ I tried to suggest.

  8. I was moved to tears by your introduction, then the painting and the poem touched me deeper than I already was. I feel gifted. (I’m struggling for words because this moved me so…)

    • As a painter I think the only way forward with my work is to take the difficult things life throws at me… indeed throws at all of us… and then try to transform them through art. My friends Vivienne and Sigrid, both Buddhists, once told me about the notion of ‘arrows into flowers’. The phrase lodged in my mind and has probably been behind much of what I try to do. While we can’t avoid the setbacks and losses that are a part of being human, I think it behoves us to make ourselves better through examining and trying to understand all experiences, no matter how painful some of them may be.

      Thank you for being frank about your response to the drawing and to Catriona’s poem. I wish I could show her what you wrote. I still miss her terribly.

  9. the story here is such a difficult one, but urqhuart’s balance of daily details with larger personal impressions and then ancient myths is amazing. i especially love the lines,

    “Or are you now wild Neptune
    thrashing down sea horses, trident at your feet?

    I pray for Pegasus to wing you clear.”

    and the way she made the ending some thing other than cripplingly painful–it’s a magical gift.
    your works in this series are very intense, also an amazing balance–very muscular and yet showing a collapse. they have a powerful energy to them, and i am struck by it anew every time i look.

    on another note, i am anxious to see this new monograph when it is completed!! please keep us updated!

    • I do wonder what Catriona may have achieved had she lived longer. She was a gifted linguist and musician, so I think she may have done something wonderful with a new translation of the libretto of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale that I was planning to illustrate. But the project came too late for her to make any progress on it before she died.

      Catriona had met my father not long after the death of her own, and in some respects she found in him a figure she could relate to in a similar way. Trevor twinkled in her presence, and the stories of his youth tumbled freely from him for her to hoover up. Catriona loved the stories that made up rich and long lives. By the time Trevor died I think she knew more about my family history than I did. But his death came as a second blow to her, and although that loss flowered in the poetic text of The Mare’s Tale, she was also cast very low because she sorely missed him.

      I loved the Pegasus poem when I read it, and soon afterwards made another painting inspired by the ideas in it. I shall post it some time soon.

  10. The cave-like space in which the figure floats is a haunter: the cave, the grave, the awful reins that are like some frail symbolic winding sheet or Ariadne’s thread but with no possibility of passage away from the night mare…

    I must say that I agree with Jeremy about your writing but understand why you don’t write more. But I am especially fond of the things you have written about creatures at Ty Isaf–the old pony, the hedgehog and its nest in the leaves, Jack and his mother and the dead puppy. They catch non-human motion and existence so well and have much charm. You are simply a myriad-minded person, and life is not quite long enough for the shelf of books you might write about Ty Isaf or your many sorts of jobs and roles in the theatre or seven years of hermitude.

    • And this is where the public slips over into the private, for Marly is remembering things I’ve shared with her pre-Artlog. The hedgehog nest for instance that our dog Jack guarded over and regularly checked, we realised later, the long winter through. Only when it came to leaf-clearing in the spring did we find what he’d been busy about in that spot, because we uncovered his prickly friend fast asleep there. We tucked her up again, but left apples in case she’d been disturbed and woke too early to a hard frost. Still Jack regularly checked when he went outdoors, plunging his nose under her duvet of leaves to assure himself she was present and alive. Later when the hedgehog went about the business of making a nest elsewhere to have her litter in, Jack found that too, and continued his vigil. He’s fascinated by her.

      It’s true Marly, there will never be that shelf of books I may have written. Life has been long enough for me to have been a dancer and choreographer and a director and stage designer before I took fright, took to my heels and didn’t stop running until I arrived at Tretower. Having transformed from what I was to what I am took quite a while, but then no-one, myself least of all, was watching the clock. I was past forty by the time I had some inkling of what was happening, and half way to fifty when it began to dawn on me that there was much work to be done in order to produce any paintings worth looking at in the time remaining to me.

      Few of us know how long we’re likely to get to complete our tasks, but I try to paint as though each work off the easel is my last. That thought sharpens my concentration each time I climb to the studio. The playwright Julian Mitchell in his opening speech at my first public gallery show in 2001, made the following point: I was a man working in the knowledge that time spent painting, however little or however much of it might be available, was never going to be long enough for me to complete all of my work. He was quite right. It’s the fate of the late-starter.

      As for the writing, well Marly, such as they are I think that my e-mails must be the repositories of my thoughts. Peter worries over getting everything stored safely and I trust to his endeavours on that front. The Artlog has made me think harder about the past and the paintings. Maybe some of what’s been started here may get into the monograph, or at least provide material for it. Of course the bottom line is that it’s the material of life that makes the art. My paintings are my books. In them the day-to-day bears fruit.

      • Ptfp! I shall have to catch up once the school break ends!

        This sounds exactly right in many ways. Yet you would not be the painter you are without that exact history behind you. I see those elements from the past in your pictures–they inform what you do and how you do it–and am glad to see them there.

        More anon…

  11. I want to thank you, Clive, for today’s posting which shows in its own particular way the strength of the visual and literary strands which are your inspiration and which have been evident in virtually every posting since you started the Artlog.

    I remember writing to tell you when I received a copy of the book ‘The Temptations of Solitude’ how affected I was by the quality of your own writing and hoped that there would be opportunities of seeing more of it. That was 2004 and now here we are in 2010 with your heart being poured visually and in words into the Artlog.

    At first I thought that your literary abilities were being drained by the amount of effort you put into the Artlog and that our chances of seeing more of your writing on paper was being greatly reduced. But I’m beginning to see it in a different light: perhaps I underestimate the likelihood that this is in fact giving you exercise for more extended writing which I am hoping for in the future.

    I find the intense combination of the literary and visual in your work very exciting. You take us into a mythical world which is a very valuable counterpart to the logos/reason side of ourselves.

    Thank you. And congratulations to the designer of the Artlog itself which is such a delight to read and look at: you have made inspiring use of it.

    • Jeremy, I recall your comments after reading The Temptations of Solitude. It’s not that I’ve been averse to writing about the processes of making art, but rather the lack of opportunities for such writing to be given an airing. The simple fact is that no-one has asked me to write on the subject, save the people who encouraged this blog. I’ve always shared with close friends the daily travails and triumphs of the studio, and quite simply the Artlog has developed from the e-mail correspondences I’ve enjoyed over the past years. So I have many to thank, but principally Anita, Marly, Kathe, Philippa and Zoe. All of them creative people themselves, and all have asked the questions that elicited the responses eventually leading to what you read now. My sister-in-law Sally helped me get the site up and running, my brother-in-law Andrew helped tweak it, Harry Heuser contributed an afternoon of one-to-one web-site tutoring and Dave Bonta endlessly encouraged and helped me fine-tune it from his home on the other side of the world. Neither should we forget the regular visitors who comment. I offer them my thanks for opening debates, and for their unflagging encouragement.

      Next year there’s to be a substantial monograph published to coincide with my sixtieth birthday retrospective at The National Library of Wales. There are quite a lot of contributors, each chapter having a different author. But Peter and Rex Harley… Rex was the author of the main text for The Temptations… have persuaded me to write a brief chronology/biography for the book, and so my writing will really be put to the test for that. It’s a fact that words have always meant a great deal to me. Often I draw inspiration for paintings from poetry, and when I’m out on a drawing trip, I’ll often as not make a description in my notebook as a sketch. Three of the contributors to the monograph are novelists with particular insights into the arts. That seems entirely appropriate to me, with my love of literature. I hope that when the book comes out Jeremy, you’ll enjoy it as much as you did the slender volume of The Temptations. Many thanks for leaving the comment. It was very heartening to read it.

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