I’d Love to be a Painter
“Because I could not stop for death —
He kindly stopped for me…” Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886
It’s been a warm and beautiful summer this summer. For some, it’s been a little hot. But for me, it has been one of the best summers I can remember. There has been plenty of sunshine and plenty of beautiful warm summer days. A summer simply perfect for outdoor activities.
Two of my favorite outdoor activities are walking and reading. Most people think of reading as an indoor activity and do more reading on those cold, dark, blustery days of winter. But to me, there’s nothing better than sitting in the shade of a large maple tree and reading an engaging book.
The more books I read, the more I find myself drawn to books written by writers who paint pictures with words. Some writers have amazing ways of painting with words that the paintings they create enchant the mind of the reader. To me, it is much better than watching a movie. Movies are always about how someone else sees the scenes and the characters that the writer painted. Books make me the director of the movie and allow me to create the scenes as I see them.
My mind, for whatever reason, never sees scenes the way a movie director does. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve often heard people say that a movie is “not as good as the book”. It seems to me that the reason for that is that everyone who reads a book sees the scenes the author paints in many different ways.
I like books. I read a lot of them. I like books that take me places I’ll never have the chance to visit. I like books that show me things I’ve never seen or allow me to do things I’ve never done. Books that let me do things I know I’ll never do. I like books that let me do things I can’t do – things I know I’ll never have the good fortune to do.
I like books with dreamy scenes of surreal sunsets on mysterious islands on aqua oceans miles from wherever I am. I like books about exotic continents filled with strange people doing exotic and exciting things, while I sit in the shade of a rustling red maple tree, on a perfect summer day. Just me, under the tree, in my boring, obscure, unexciting small town, reading and letting the writer paint pictures in my mind.
The best writers are painters. They paint with words. And the pictures they paint can be just as beautiful and captivating as any canvas by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, or Rembrandt. Maybe it is because the words of a word painter flow through our minds, letting our minds paint unique pictures. In a sense, our minds become canvases for great writers. And some of the paintings they create are more beautiful than any painting our eyes can ever see.
I just looked at the thermometer. It is 86 degrees. With humidity to match. But the word-painting in my mind at this moment is one of a snowy, winter evening in New England. My mind has traveled back across the years to a time so long ago.
I see a horse stopping beside a snow-dusted wood on a lonely, country road. Snow is falling. Great big fluffy flakes. The owner of the horse stops to contemplate the beauty of this deceptively simple winter landscape. Even though the painter of these words is no longer in this world, his words live on, beyond time and space, he leaves a beautiful painting behind. And no painting on any canvas in this world could be lovelier than the one Robert Frost just painted in my mind.
I recall every passage of his poem from memory. It is my favorite word-painting. And it is my favorite poem.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
(By Robert Frost – 1922)
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the pond and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The beauty of Robert Frost’s words flows from their simplicity. His poem is a word-painting of such beauty it brings winter to the hottest summer day. But the chills that run through me as I read it are not the chills of the cold snowy evening which he so wonderfully describes, but because his word-painting touches something deep inside me.
I committed this poem, this word-painting to memory when I was in high school. And let me tell you – that was a long time ago. And I committed it to memory not because a teacher required it for class, but because it touched me then just as much as it touches me now.
Writers who paint pictures with words are the ones I love to read the most. I remember reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles in high school. My friends (and I’m sure many other students) found it boring and out-of-touch with our “modern times”. But I found it a fascinating word painting. I lived with the characters in the story. I lived in their time and in their villages. I was sad when the novel ended. I felt as if I were leaving some good friends behind. I was leaving a time and place I had grown to love. I should read it again now as decades have passed since I read it.
I wonder how much of it I would remember.
My favorite writers are Shakespeare, Emily Dickenson, Robert Frost, A.E. Housman, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Nelson DeMille, Michael Connelly, David Baldacci, John Grisham, many others. And those are just from memory, if I looked through the boxes of books I’ve read over the years, I’m sure I’d come up with that many more.
Each has or had a place in my life. Each was my favorite at a different time in my life. While each of these writers has a different style, they all have one thing in common. They all paint beautifully with words.
With Rue My Heart is Laden
(By A.E. Housman – 1859)
With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.
The pictures that Housman’s short poem evokes in my mind are melancholy and nostalgic. They touch my heart. And they make me long to paint pictures with words. And this by Henry Van Dyke, makes me realize we all have different perspectives.
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is not.”
― Henry van Dyke
Albert Einstein was asked by a group of schoolchildren to explain his theory of time dilation. And he told them… a minute with your hand on a hot stove seems like an hour, but an hour sitting with a pretty girl seems like a minute.
I am in awe of those who can paint pictures with words. I would love to be such a painter. I would love to lay down upon a canvas of paper such simple yet powerful words that the reader will see a hauntingly beautiful picture in his or her mind… and feel the words touching their hearts and their souls.
Perhaps someday I will find the words to touch a reader’s heart and soul. Or bring a tear to the reader’s eye or make the reader laugh.
Maybe someday I can take the reader with me as I walk along the path of my life and touch their hearts with my words. I hope one day, I will have the skill to paint a word painting. Perhaps a word-painting of some quiet autumn afternoon. A painting filled with gold and red and orange leaves falling gently down upon some forgotten wooded trail – a gentle autumn breeze rustling the colorful leaves that are strewn across the forest floor. Autumn-colored leaves floating down from the branches on a gentle cool breeze that still carries some of summer’s breath.
How I love to watch the beautifully colored leaves fall softly upon the ground.
But more than painting an autumn day, I’d love to paint with words a lovely picture – not of what I see, but of the wonder that fills my heart as I walk along the path of life and see the beauty that surrounds me. The beauty that surrounds us all – and some, sadly, barely take notice.
The summer day is hot and humid. The red maple rustles in the warm summer wind. Nelson DeMille is painting a bizarre picture in my mind – he’s taking me to a place I’ve never been and showing me things, I’ve never seen.
I am sitting in a bungalow near the Mediterranean Sea watching sailboats and ocean lavender moving with the wind. I’m a spy on a mission…
How I’d love to be a painter with words!