Writing101, Day 2 — Joy In The Garden of Despair

The Three Shades, Rodin, Cantor Sculpture Garden, Stanford, 2014

The Three Shades, Rodin, Cantor Sculpture Garden, Stanford, 2014

The first busload of tourists hasn’t arrived, and quiet rules in the Cantor Sculpture Garden. It’s Saturday morning, and the nearby construction site is taking the day off, which immobilizes the cranes and enforces the quiet.

I walk among the life-size sculptures listening to the sounds of my shoes on the gravelled pathways. Shielded from the warm spring sun by oak trees, the bronze castings of Rodin’s sculptures are cool to the touch, but there is no whimsy in this garden. The twisted and distorted figures seem to be in agony.

A life-sized enlargement of the topmost figure of Rodin’s magnificent Gates of Hell stands apart on a low platform that is shielded from the construction by a row of trees and a low fence. The Three Shades, heads bowed and backs lowered as if to receive a great weight, look down at the gravel.

I approach the Three Shades; crouching low to take a photo of the partially hidden face of the leftmost Shade. Agony or, perhaps, sadness is reflected in the expression. There is no joy here.

The Three Shades, Rodin (detail)

The Three Shades, Rodin (detail)

I try to imagine the Three Shades guarding the Gates of Hell and cannot. This garden is not the entrance to the underworld, not even in my imagination — it’s Stanford and it’s the week before commencement, a happy time for the graduates and their parents that is generally shared by everyone on campus.

Rodin’s famous sculpture is somber and worthy of study, but this is a time of joy; a time for the living: the graduates, their parents and teachers and the students whose graduation is yet to come.

The Three Fates is a remarkable work of art, but despair must yield to joy.


1 thought on “Writing101, Day 2 — Joy In The Garden of Despair

  1. Nice! I like the juxtaposition of myth versus modern in your reflection of the sculptures and the construction. And the agony versus joy. Works really well.


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