A framed etching by Dermuid Delargy, ‘The Imminence of Death’ (1988) hangs above our living room couch. The monochrome field is filled with scribbles and blobs, scratches and stains, and with remarkably fluent and confident lines. Several figures punctuate the scene, two stamping horses, a woman turning away, a man lying stricken on the ground. In the bottom right-hand corner another man, naked and with arms outstretched, is facing a charging bull. Though in peril the man’s posture is open – in bravado or fatalism – he is the hero of a moment transfixed.
Images stop time but we cannot. In ‘De brevitate Vitae’ the roman philosopher Seneca reminds us that time is precious. We imagine we have more time to come but we don’t really, there is only the present. We can alleviate anxieties about the brevity of life by remembering to live now. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that when greeting each other we should say: “Take your time!” Time should be possessed, not feared. Until recently I imagined Delargy’s hero was extending his arms in an acceptance of his fate, a gesture welcoming his own destruction. But now I think the figure’s gesture is one of defiance. In his out-stretched stance he is attempting to stretch out the present, pushing time sideways to his left and to his right, extending the moment that prefigures death forever.
In another image of resistance, from death as a kind of ecstatic dissolution, ‘The Drunken Boat’, returns, – “the sea has rolled me softly in her sigh” – to the dark pond. Rimbaud’s reverie culminates in exultation, “O Let my keel burst! Give me to the sea!”, but the desire for oblivion lasts for only an instant. The toy boat returns eventually to the boy, and to ordinary life, but carrying a cargo of extraordinary visions, of “Dawn rising like a nation of doves”, of, “Glaciers, silver suns, pearly tides, ember skies!”
The final verse, forlorn, as though worn out from the tumultuous voyage, contains a plea, “If I desire any of the waters of Europe, it’s the pond black and cold, in the odor of evening, where a child full of sorrow gets down on his knees to launch a paper boat as frail as a May butterfly.”