Voyage of Life

“Youth” by Thomas Cole

“Youth” by Thomas Cole

Sometimes a work of art communicates something to you, something that you seemed to have already known in some sense, yet never quite articulated to yourself clearly. I think many would agree that the language of art and music is something that cannot simply be described through words. It is no simple matter to measure it with mathematics or science, either. In fact, I would posite that attempting to measure such things actually misses the point entirely, and even detracts from it’s value as a whole.

I still remember the first time I saw the “Voyage of Life” painting series by Thomas Cole. I remember where I was clearly, and I remember who I was at that time. Something about the series resonated so deeply within me, it’s like it was communicating from another realm of reality. It was a profound statement about reality itself, physical and metaphysical.

Recently I was inspired to buy a large print of my favorite of the paintings, “Youth”. I remember listening to a lecture years ago about art and music, and hearing the speaker say something along the lines of: “When you invite an inspiring work of art into your home, watch out, because it will insert itself into your life and it will influence all of your decisions as well as who you become”.

Here is a description of the painting from Wikipedia:

The second painting, Youth, shows the same rich, green landscape, but here the view widens as does the voyager's experience. Now the youth grabs the tiller firmly as the angel watches and waves from the shore, allowing him to take control. The boy's enthusiasm and energy is evident in his forward-thrusting pose and billowing clothes. In the distance, a ghostly castle hovers in the sky, a white and shimmering beacon that represents the ambitions and dreams of man.

To the youth, the calm river seems to lead straight to the castle, but at the far right of the painting one can just glimpse the river as it becomes rough, choppy, and full of rocks. Cole comments on the landscape and the youth's ambitions: "The scenery of the picture—its clear stream, its lofty trees, its towering mountains, its unbounded distance, and transparent atmosphere—figure forth the romantic beauty of youthful imaginings, when the mind elevates the Mean and Common into the Magnificent, before experience teaches what is the Real."

Well, about a month after I had hung up the painting I had a new song about it. Which is really saying something, because in that period I was hardly writing any music at all. I tried to write the song from the perspective of the main character in this series of paintings, the “child who becomes a man” by willingly navigating the unpredictable and often treacherous river of life. I purposely hung the painting above my bed so that it is the first thing I see when I wake up.

Here are the lyrics to the new song as well (to be included in the next album):

“Anywhere the wind blows, there goes my soul

For I am the child of the unknown

and down the River I’ll go

Anywhere the mind roams, I go alone

for I am the traveller of the Road

no other choice do I hold

Anytime the clock shows, the future’s unknown

for time is the River through the soul

and only forward it goes…”

You can view the whole “Voyage of Life” gallery here:

Morgan Thomas