The word edge got my attention when I discovered this Levitan painting: Meadow on the Edge of the Forest. Edge means the farthest point from the center, the outer limits of a place or object. Depending on which side we're standing, it's either the edge of the forest or the edge of the meadow. The two edges come together in this painting.
But edge can also be a verb: to creep or inch along, to move gradually, to move carefully in a direction. Levitan has painted this meadow scene two years before his death. He knows his heart is weak; that he does not have much more time. He is edging towards the end of his life.
Maybe this is why parts of the painting seem to have been painted quickly. The trees are moving in a breeze, there is a kind of blank sky without detailed clouds full of good or bad weather. And while the painting is basically green and white, it is filled with light. Indeed, the closer Levitan edged towards death, the brighter his palette.
What does this say about him? That he wasn't afraid? That he believed light would be the victor over darkness? That there is life on the other side? That he had come to a place of inner acceptance?
He is standing in the meadow. A few more feet and he will have stepped into the forest. In the language of poems and myths, the forest is rich in symbolic meaning:
- the forest is the place outside our control
- the forest is the perilous place of the unconscious - where terrors lurk
- the forest is the place of hiding
- the forest is the home of supernatural spirits
- the forest is our pristine home: unspoiled, clean and fresh
Throughout his short but very productive career, Levitan believed that a painting should convey emotion, feeling and something of the spiritual world. As he stands at the edge of the meadow, perhaps he is telling us that for all its troubles and suffering, the world is still a beautiful place and that he expects when it's time to step over to the other side, he will discover meaning, consolation, resolution, the taming of our inner monsters and the healing of our dread.