A native love story set in North America provided the inspiration for this painting by the French artist Girodet. The Entombment of Atala had a profound effect on me when I first saw it as a teenager in the Louvre Museum.
I was especially moved by the inscription on the wall of the cave which is easily discernible in the large painting, but barely visible in most reproductions.
J’ai passé comme la fleur.
J’ai seché comme l’herbe des champs.
Translated, it means ‘I have withered like the flower. I have dried up like the grass of the fields.’
The ephemeral connection between humans and grass blew me away.
Especially when we’re young, we have a tendency to think that we will live forever. As we age, we begin to take more notice of the change of the seasons and realize that old age and death eventually come to us all.
The bloom of spring becomes synonymous with the bloom of youth. By the time we hit middle age, it becomes quite apparent that we are in the late summer of life, and that we too will eventually dry up and wither like the grass in the fields.
Yet every season in both nature and life offers a beauty of its own. August days reveal the simple elegance of grasses on the landscape.
The Foxtail Barley shown at left is one that I find especially pretty. However, it can be deadly if it finds its way into the hay meant for farm animals, as its tiny barbs are known to cause respiratory and digestive problems.
Despite its beauty when in bloom, grass serves its greatest purpose once it begins to dry and go to seed. It’s a comforting message of hope for those of us who wonder at times if the best of life might already be passed.
All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.
~ Isaiah 40:6
For more information on Chateaubriand’s early 19th century story of Atala and Chactas, see the Wikipedia post on Atala.
For more information about the painting, see The Entombment of Atala at the Louvre Museum.