• The Awful Daring of A Moment’s Surrender

    This is based on the first “DA” in the closing of What The Thunder Said, from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, lines 401 to 409:

    Datta: what have we given?
    My friend, blood shaking my heart
    The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
    Which an age of prudence can never retract
    By this, and this only, we have existed
    Which is not to be found in our obituaries
    Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
    Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
    In our empty rooms

    The “Datta” allusion is to the Upanishad, where three groups each interpret God’s utterance differently and take away three different meanings of life: generosity, self-control, and compassion. Datta is the first interpretation – generosity, or giving charitably.

    I don’t really get a sense of charity from the lines above. They have more to do with self-control than charity, I suspect. To me, the “awful daring” means making a momentary decision – even passively – that may change the trajectory of one’s life. In a way, it’s about taking risks and the sort of actions that result as a consequence.

    The risks we take are ultimately what define us though not necessarily in a bad way. A big leitmotif theme in Eliot’s work is regret from a life of inaction and dwelling on what one didn’t do. What we leave behind should be memories of our best actions, not a dry catalogue of dates summed up by our obituaries, epitaphs, and wills.

    Anyway, enough philosophy: so to my mind, an illustrative painting following this theme needed lots of texture, swirling red, maybe some suggested fossils or wings.


    Mixed media (pigment, marble and clay dust, paste, various glazes) on canvas, 24″ x 48″
    Located at: Private residence