Yin and yang of Yeats
Gavin Thomas Murphy runs a website called Gratitude In All Things where he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.
Seeing beauty is not always like the way a lover meets his beloved for the first time. Sometimes it means seeing black as white and white as black.
Do you ever wonder what goes on when you pray or meditate? Perhaps you maintain an upright posture, breathe rhythmically, and behold an image in your mind’s eye. But what exactly is going on? I invite you to accompany me as I meditate on two of Jack B Yeats’ paintings: The Singing Horseman (1949) » and For the Road (1951) ». Each work contains an animal and human figure, offering a profound insight into how we see reality today.
As I gaze at the first painting, I see a wild, unruly horse coloured with large brushstrokes of yellow and dashes of black. I see a young man holding his hands together, his head cocked back and looking up to the sky in song. He accepts the fiery energy of the horse, while the horse wants to go his own way.
The horse is dominant and daring with a fearsome stare. His front legs are raised high amid the fields; the sea is in view and there is a swirling gust of wind. We don’t quite know where the horse will gallop or what he will do next. Yet the man is rejoicing.
I also gaze at the second painting. I see a powerful horse emerging from the dark woods with a flowing rhythm to his limbs. He travels in the direction of the light where a single human is visible. The horse’s body is a mixture of brighter and darker colours – tones of blue, green, black, red, yellow and white.
The art gallery refers to the animal as a ghost-like ‘spectral horse’, but I prefer to see him as real in the context of what Yeats suggests. He moves seamlessly like the wind. I earnestly desire him to ‘go to the light’ where he may flourish, meet the needs of a person, and ride not in separation, but in unison.
As we move from one painting to another, can we notice something going on within us just like when we experience silent meditation? For example, we may at first glance ponder the beauty of the young man riding effortlessly in The Singing Horseman. But then, we may ponder the beauty of the mutual longing between the horse and human in For the Road. And this is what meditation does: it makes us go deeper and deeper.
Despite the fact that nobody is riding the horse in Yeats’ later painting, we can get the sense that he longs to be with the person in the bright, clearing of the woods. Can we put ourselves in the place of this human figure? To imagine the horse slowing down as he approaches us? To allow us to come close and touch him, to feel the hairs and contours on his head and neck, to pick up on his wooded scent, to share water from the nearby spring.
And there is more! Perhaps we can imagine that the horse emits a smooth heart rhythm as he gets to know us; his ears loosen, his entire body becomes still. There is little tension and much letting go. It’s as if he is meditating! Perhaps there is a synchronicity as we stroke his warm chest.
We can continue to place ourselves in Yeats’ later painting and try to listen to the horse beyond the surface level – to meet his fears with a gentle gaze, to keep him calm through our own calmness. We can even say, “I understand your needs and I am here for you” in a quiet and tender tone.
As this meditation comes to a close, I hope that you are beginning to tap into your own insights, whether they are in a similar or different vein to my own. There may even be a heartfelt message just for you. Perhaps we are breathing deeper and feeling warmer – the result of quietly observing the strokes, colours, and energies of Yeats.
When we’re ready, let us leave this art gallery for now. My earnest hope, as we gaze and praise in everyday life, is that we may be more open to seeing things beautiful and new in our world.