Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

In the Golden Globe Awards this past Sunday evening, Willem Dafoe was nominated for best actor for his role in the film “At Eternity’s Gate.” Dafoe portrays Dutch expressionist Vincent van Gogh, whose paintings, including “The Potato Eaters” (1885), “Starry Night” (1889) and “Self-Portrait with Pipe and Bandaged Ear” (1890), may be the best known in the world. Yet, during his tortured and outcast lifetime, he sold just one of his canvases and couldn’t get a job painting a fence.

Vincent planted seeds for glorious, blazing sunflowers that he never lived to see bloom in his garden and created incandescent stars that never shone on him. As the artist himself expressed it, “One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul, and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way.” Yet for more than a century those who lived after him have learned to see the world through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh, who, living alone and unattended, speaks to us across time and powerfully influences the course of modern art.

The last lines of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” paints a portrait that could be Vincent van Gogh:

And all should cry, Beware! Beware! 

His flashing eyes, his floating hair! 

Weave a circle round him thrice, 

And close your eyes with holy dread, 

For he on honey-dew hath fed, 

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Born on March 30, 1853. van Gogh, between 1872 and 1890, wrote hundreds of letters to his younger brother, Theo, his only constant ally and support during a lifetime of struggle. This exchange between two affectionate brothers reveals Vincent as a keen intellectual fully connected to 19th-century thought.

“Mysteries remain, and sorrow or melancholy, but that eternal negative is balanced by the positive work which is thus achieved after all. If life were as simple, and things as little complicated by a goody-goody’s story or the hackneyed sermon of the average clergyman, it wouldn’t be so very difficult to make one’s way. But it isn’t, and things are infinitely more complicated, and right and wrong do not exist separately, any more than black and white do in nature.”

Van Gogh was an avid reader, and the authentic literary style of his letters reflects his love of books. In his letters the artist exhibits a remarkable ability to paint with words and to marshal words to talk about his painting:

  • I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.
  • Paintings have a life of their own that derives from the painter’s soul.
  • Painting is a faith and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.
  • I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.
  • A good picture is equivalent to a good deed.
  • There is nothing more truly artistic than to love others.
  • Art is life seeking itself. It is our intractable expression of love for the beauties, ideas and epiphanies we regularly find.
  • When I have a terrible need for religion, I go out and paint the stars.          

Near the end of his life, Vincent van Gogh was admitted to the asylum at Saint-Remy, in the south of France, where he was smitten by terrible seizures. Of one of these he wrote his brother: “My work was going well, the last canvas of branches in blossom — you will see that it was perhaps the best, the most patiently worked thing I had done, painted with calm and with greater firmness of touch. And the next day, down like a brute. Difficult to understand things like that, but alas! it’s like that.”

Vincent took his own life on July 30, 1890. Just a few weeks before, he was able to write, “I still love art and life very much indeed.” Theo was broken by the loss, and, six months later, almost to the day, followed his brother. They rest side by side in a churchyard at Auvers-sur-Oise.


On Friday, January 18, starting at 7 pm, I’ll be performing at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4190 Front St., San Diego 92103, in Hillcrest.For ticket information go to www.eventbrite.com/e/richard-lederer-january-2019-tickets-53303330697. Questions: 619 370 9622.