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  • Tragedy
  • David Yezzi

That’s quite a title that Franz Kline has given his late-career oil at the BMA. That AbEx gang was really serious, serious drinkers and serious about their art. Me, I like the title. But look at this thing: not glowering or glum, knee-deep in blood. It’s all sunny yellows, except for what is going on there in the center, gray and brown and black. The eye goes to those after.

First, it’s honeys and pinks and blues. And orange. My god, it’s like a sunrise, not a place where bad things happen. And that’s exactly right. Old Franz Kline knew what he was up to. Sure, atrocities often root down in the dark. Ditches make room for limed and fetid bodies. But they are not the sites of tragedy. It’s where there is no stain of evil doing, ever. Where poppies overgrow the soil.

Imagine, say, King Lear ceding his kingdom not in some flinty throne room but in a field surrounded by green hills a league from the sea. He’s dozing in late sunlight, as a few benign and sluggish bees surround his head. It’s warm. His daughters’ robes trail over the grass and billow like jibs in the saltish breeze. The nattering of Kent and Gloucester wakes him, and the king remembers he has work to do. He rises and strides forward to where a map the size of a large carpet is unrolled in blinding light. Sun hits Cordelia’s hair; it blazes yellow. No sign of rain clouds, [End Page 336] and gale-force winds seem unimaginable. All’s perfectly tranquil as the old king begins to speak of love to his loved daughters. [End Page 337]



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pp. 336-337
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