Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Terza Rimas for Virgil Burnett's Terra Cottas

There is to me something so incomprehensible in death, that I can neither speak nor think on the subject. -Lord Byron in a letter to John Hobhouse, August 10, 1811.

When we heard of the death of Virgil Burnett, my wife and I were overcome with a great sadness.  We had both been thinking about him, he was in our thoughts.

Books brought us all together. He came to our bookshop and often visited the library where my wife works and we always enjoyed his visits. We were not close friends but we did cherish the occasional invitations to his beautiful house and the fine dry white wine he shared, much like his wit. We both have fond memories of his graciousness and kindness.

For a number of years I was selling a small portion of his personal library on consignment.  I enjoyed sitting at a table at the back of his living room cataloguing his books and having his youthful cat, Arlequino, constantly curl his way around me as I worked.

Virgil's terra cotta sculptures fascinated me.  In a letter to me, in thanks for the poem I wrote about his sculptures, he said, "I am very flattered and so are my clay ladies, vainglorious baggages that they are." His wit and humour always hovering nearby. The poem is an acrostic one and he said, in his usual understated manner, "I have never been acrosticized before--not to my knowledge anyway."  The small appendages to his sentences, little afterthoughts and reflections, are to be found in his novels and stories as well as in his speech. His very style. Le style est l'homme meme. His patience too can be seen in the lines of his illustrations.

Many, many, many people will miss him. I know we will.

Terza Rimas for Virgil's Terra Cottas

Voluptuous embodiments alight,
In stasis, dancing to an ancient song;
Redeeming Love, and Fortune's round delight.
Gyrating with this earthen world, yet strong
In vigil, burnished with a fixed desire,
Life-giving forms to guide our souls along.

By silent stillness, sculptures do inspire,
Unveiling what is ripe within.  One's hope
Renews, that truth and beauty do conspire.
Noetic visions through the figure's scope.
Eternal shapes transcendent into thought,
Transparent with the weight of mythic trope,

Though sensual, through tactile passions sought.

-ralph patrick mackay
feburary 2006.


Amanda Lewis said...

Thank you for your warm tribute to Virgil, and for capturing the terra cotta ladies in verse. Virgil was a man who touched many. Amongst other things, he introduced me, 38 summers ago, to the man who became my husband. He will always be a part of our lives. Thank you for remembering him on your blog.

jasmine said...

I just heard of Virgil's passing. He was in U Waterloo's faculty of Fine Arts when I got my Art History degree. I really enjoyed his courses, his humour and his outlook.


ralph mackay said...

Sorry for the delay in having your comments show up. Once again, My dear wife, who was helping me with a new blogger look, discovered I had 6 comments awaiting moderation. This happened once before.

Thanks for your comments on the poem. Very nice to hear your stories.

Maud Burnett McInerney said...

I came across your blog the other day and was moved by it; you may be happy to know, that Arly the calico cat has found a new home in Philadelphia, and that most of my father's books have found a home with me.

ralph mackay said...

Hi Maud, Many thanks for your comment. Wonderful to hear Arly is with you. I remember Virgil saying to my wife and I that it was his grand-daughter who suggested he get a cat. A beautiful cat. Very fond of climbing onto one's lap or shoulder. We didn't get to know Virgil very well but we enjoyed those brief moments. We send you our condolences and all our best wishes.