Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Saturday, 16 January 2010



Christ in the House of Mary and Martha: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, 1618 (National Gallery, London)

Like Niobe, all tears.

-- Hamlet

Indeed the tears live in an onion that should water this sorrow.

-- Antony and Cleopatra

What is the word in the universal language of feeling which we utter inside ourselves when we cast our eyes upon the suddenly, strangely weeping face of the kitchen maid in the Christ in the House of Mary and Martha of Velázquez?

Is this person acting? Are these tears real? Does the expression of a person in a picture tell the truth about her life? Are we being manipulated? Can authentic sorrow be faked in art? Do we wish to share the pain of a figure in a work of art? Are we reassured and comforted to know certain emotions are timeless? Is "real life" like this? Don't all tears have to dry up sometime?

Niobe was turned to stone, but continued to weep for her lost children, and as she wept, tears flowed from the stone.

What dying and crying have in common is a loss of composure, a de-composing. What crying has that dying lacks is a coming back to life.

File:NiobeWeepingRock AglayanKaya MountSipylus ManisaTurkey.jpg

Weeping Rock, Aglayan Kaya (associated with Niobe), Mt. Sipylus, Manisa, Turkey: photo by R.K. Tanitim, 2007


human being said...

thanks Tom for answering my question... and what an answer!

you made me think for a long time... and i'm still thinking... sometimes when you are thinking you just don't like to talk about all your thoughts at that time... it's like sailing on the sea... and just when you come to the shore, you open your mouth...

so i will revisit this post for sure...

your other answers on other posts too are of a certain fabric... i was just busy examining them when i recieved this...

you sound so familiar to me... a state of doubt... me too feel it... and this doubt is not dark or bad... it is so transparent... it's dissolving some part of our souls in itself... so that we might become lighter... so that we can float more easily... see what i mean?

i'm thinking about these beautiful questions you've asked... i remember a story i once wrote in my mid twenties... the hero of the story is eventually turned into stone... not being able to leave the dark cave... but its tears water a seed and that seed turns into a winding plant that starts following the light peeking through some crevice.... and thus the hero leaves the dark cave through the plant...

Tom... i'm sitting here thinking about all the tears... the tears of a candle... the tears of a stone... the tears of the sky... the tears of a poet's words... the tears of an onion... the tears of the maid in this painting... my tears... other people's tears... and crocodile tears!

and then i feel all are true in a sense... all are trying to tell us something... and what is important is the way we try to understand them... to decode the message in them... let them be lies... lies are some pieces of truth in disguise...

and tears never dry up... as it is always raining... it never stops raining...

human being said...

and why i referred to the hero of the story with the pronoun 'its'?

when we are turned into stone... when we die... tears save us, eh? what are these drops of salty water? the alchemist knows...

TC said...


Well, it seems the hero became neutered by being turned into stone. Niobe was human, all-too-human in her grief. When she was turned to stone, tears continued to flow. Does this mean the stone retained human qualities, a kind of life, the life that is suffering?

Her story is perhaps a lie that conceals a truth. Of such stories we can say, as you do,

"...all are true in a sense... all are trying to tell us something... and what is important is the way we try to understand them... to decode the message in them... let them be lies... lies are some pieces of truth in disguise...

"and tears never dry up... as it is always raining... it never stops raining... "

It has not stopped raining here since your first comment came in, and I have not stopped thinking about that comment and about you, trying to imagine your life, the grieving and pain I believe you have experienced, the courage that has allowed you to continue to express even though time and again your expression has been curtailed by forces and for reasons we cannot even talk about here.

My wife who has been subject to a fair amount of grief herself has said that she recognizes in you something of what she sees in me, and of course this includes not only the intuition on her part that both you and I have experienced pain and yet gone on attempting to speak, but also the understanding that these experiences colour everything we say, and cause those things to be not quite up to the level of quick, light fun which many people expect to find on the internet.

Too bad, but so be it.

You speak of the tale you wrote as a young woman. I think of a tale written by the poet Keats as a very young man, barely into his twenties, of the Greek shepherd Endymion, wandering in the woods, and how his sad and pensive state was fathomed by those around him as perhaps like that of Niobe, that woman who lost her children and became a weeping stone, causing

a thousand thoughts to envelope
Those who would watch. Perhaps, the trembling knee
And frantic gape of lonely Niobe,
Poor, lonely Niobe! when her lovely young
Were dead and gone, and her caressing tongue
Lay a lost thing upon her paly lip,
And very, very deadliness did nip
Her motherly cheeks.

These images of grief and grieving are perhaps eternal. Your courage is mortal, and not merely an invented story but a real human quality bred of experience of real life. How can art encapsulate and convey such things? I don't know... and yet it does. The way it does that is a marvel to me, I learn a little more about it each time I visit Thus Spake the Crow.

Can understanding a bit about any of these things help to make us happy? I very much doubt it. But being happy is not everything. There is life to be lived, in all its complication. At times it silences us, turns us to stone. And then once again we attempt to speak.

I suppose the kitchen maid in the painting has been brought to tears by overhearing the sacrificial victim, in the adjoining chamber, tell the penitent woman, who has bathed his feet in her tears, not to lament, for what he must undergo has already been written and cannot be altered. He himself cannot weep, for he is about to die. Her tears are what ensure her further life.

Art historians may quarrel about the interpretation of the painting, but I cannot help thinking Velázquez, for all the fact that he was working within a recognizable genre, must have understood a great deal about these things. I cannot find any other explanation for the fact that I find his painting so very moving.

human being said...


i should go out now... and don't know what to do with these tears

i'll be back...
just do me a favor... go to your wife... stand in front of her... look into her eyes for a few moments... then kneel... take her hands... both of them... and kiss them for me... gently and lovingly...

Anonymous said...

The heart is a grief cauldron of infinite capacity
No thunderstorm monsoon or gentle rain will ever fill it
The wind barely defines its shape
The sun finds no corners to illuminate
The universe holds it not.

Friends can taste the pain season and stir with company
Only lost children distanced brothers and dead parents can empty it
But a partner makes it transparent known and beautiful.

The heart is a joy tapestry of mysterious strength
No loom or pointed needle will ever bind it
Its threads tightly weave it
Its colors serve to direct the senses
The warmth of its pattern serves whomever it covers.

TC said...

Thank you Zev and HB.

Always seeking love's hidden tone.

human being said...

i really like your interpretation of the painting...
the first impression i had when i saw the two pics was that we all have one of those chambers in our soul... what really motivates us may be hidden to the eye of the other people... and that chamber decides for the ingredients of our tears... some tears can disslove any stone... hence freeing the energy trapped in them...

this is the way of seekers...

and look how your tears (the post)... have gained momentum and created a flood (in the comments)...

this is the way of seekers too...

they just go on their own way... dropping the seeds of awareness in the soil of our soul...
in front of them there may be dry deserts... but behind them there is always a green trail of understanding...
and understanding is love...


TC said...


You have put me in mind of John Donne's poem "A Valediction: of Weeping," in which the lover who is about to part from his beloved is weeping, but tries to persuade her that while they still remain together, it is alright for him to cry, because it is parting from her that causes his tears. And because her image is reflected in his tears, as an image is stamped upon a coin,"the stamp they bear," the tears have value.

LET me powre forth
My teares before thy face, whil'st I stay here,
For thy face coines them, and thy stampe they beare,
And by this Mintage they are something worth

aditya said...

Breathtaking Lines everywhere Tom.

I have lived/seen/felt a tiny fraction of what the commentators here have. But I still somehow feel like saying a little.

Over the very small period of a small life I have lived, I have met/experienced/seen people who escape whenever they encounter grief.

Sorrow has this underlying beauty woven into it. With invisible
strands of a wintry gloom. Un weave for a while, your shawl of
sorrows. Let the sun pass through the strands of it. It is beautiful.

Like the variegated figments of a bird's dead feather brought to life
by the air in the wind.

Like the words in here.

Like the people in here.

TC said...


If the ability to feel and express can be taken as a measure of how much one has lived and experienced (and I think it can), then your writings indicate you are fully qualified to take part in such a conversation.

aditya said...

Thank You Tom. For you know ...

Here very inadvertently a small discussion on smiles and sorrows broke out.