Taos is almost a cliché for unusual — even spiritual — experiences. I haven’t been there in a long time — not since 1980! — but today I went with a friend who’s a talented fiber artist. She has work in a boutique in downtown Taos and she was taking some of it out to sell in a festival this coming weekend.
We went into one very lovely gallery — beautiful paintings, and my friend was excited about the technique and I was excited about the scenes; landscapes but out of the ordinary, done with lots of paint, one of the two artists using a knife, the other a huge brush.
Then we went into another gallery, smaller, less “chic,” but filled with art. The owner was there — introduced the gallery as he and his wife, saying it was a family gallery. “These abstract works are by my wife; my work is toward the back.”
I walked into the back room and saw several paintings and framed prints I thought were beautiful. One in particular caught my eye and then I looked at the title. I saw took its name from one of my favorite poems, “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” by William Butler Yeats.
The owner followed us back and somehow we began talking of it and he said, “I like to paint poetry. That’s a poem by Yeats. I can recite it if you want.”
I did want. He did recite it and very beautifully. I was moved; the poem, the painting and the recitation were very intense for me.
I said, “The Song of the Wandering Aengus.”
“That’s what I recited.”
“I know,” I said. “I love that poem.” I was crying, and my mind was a muddle. The poem is one that matters to me even without the numerous associations it has, and the last person in my life who’d recited Yeats was a precious friend who’s been dead 10 years. I felt as if he were in the room.
My friend said, “Look, she’s crying.”
“Oh my dear,” said the man, kissing me on top of the head.
There are several other poems by Yeats I love, but I couldn’t summon even a line.
“I have another painting of Yeats’ poetry back here.” We walked to the far back room and there was a canvas with two different paintings. The first was “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” which he recited. By then I was falling into a very deep stated of stunnedness.
“That’s another poem,” he said, pointing to the other side. “Sailing to Byzantium.”
That poem is profoundly significant to me for many reasons, many important connections throughout my life. “I can recite it,” he said, “but I will have to spin in a circle, if you don’t mind that.”
“I don’t mind.”
He began to spin counter-clockwise and out of him came a perfect recitation of the poem.
I explained how the poem had long ago given me access to Venice, a city I couldn’t understand, buildings too grand and foreign for me to even begin to know what I was looking at, and I offered him some lines from “Byzantium,” another poem that described for me what I saw in the Basilica San Marco. He answered with the lines that furthered the painting done by the poem.
It was a little much for my friend who, by then, really wanted out of there.
So we left. Back on the sidewalk, I realized I was intoxicated, and then I thought of Baudelaire, of “Enivrez Vous,” where he writes that the only way to bear the terrible burden of time is to be intoxicated with wine, with poetry, with virtue, whatever you choose. I returned to the shop and told this to the man who answered me with the whole poem, in French.
The artist’s name is Pierre Delattre and the studio is 115 Bent Street in Taos.