Monday, July 18, 2011

Calvino's Elephant

Calvino's Elephant 30"x40" oil on linen 2011
Gregg Chadwick
Calvino's Elephant
30"x40" oil on linen 2011

"In fact, the elephant recognizes the language of his homeland, obeys orders, remembers what he learns, knows the passion of love and the ambition of glory, practices virtues “rare even among men,” such as probity, prudence and equity, and has a religious veneration for the sun, the moon, and the stars."

- From Man, the sky and the elephant pp. 315-330 of The Uses of Literature by Italo Calvino, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1986.

Pliny the Elder identified the elephant as the animal spiritually “closest to man.” The phrase “Maximum est elephas proximumque humanis sensibus” opens Pliny’s Historia Naturalis, Book VIII.

In turn this inspired the brilliant Italian writer, Italo Calvino, in his introductory essay to Pliny’s Historia Naturalis. And I am again reading WS Merwin's recent book of poems - The Shadow of Sirius - and thinking deeply about the mystery of our place in the universe. I had a chance to chat briefly with WS Merwin after his wonderful reading at the Hammer Museum on October 29, 2009. We spoke of elephants and mystery and nature. Inspiring stuff.

More on WS Merwin:
WS Merwin Profile

More on the Hammer Museum:
Watch and Listen

More on elephants and why we must protect them:
Elephant Reflections - from UC Press
Photographs by Karl Ammann and Text by Dale Peterson

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