Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Istra River 1886

Levitan painted this landscape of the Istra River when he was 26 years old. How calming: the winding river moving along slowly. Perhaps it is late spring or early summer,  the snow and the shadows are gone, the earth is alive and all-green. Seeing the river from a distance, we seem to be standing on a rise some distance away.

The Istra River is a 70 mile tributary that flows into the Moscova River. Even the choice of this secondary river as a painting subject tells us something about Levitan's curiosity and powers of observation and respect. This spot where he's standing is no tourist trap where souvenirs, food and cruises are peddled. Indeed, as is usual in Levitan's paintings, there are no people in sight. But you are there, and that's all that matters.

I want to discover the loveliness of out-of-the-way places, where perhaps no person has ever stood before. This spot feels quiet - I might say, eternally quiet, inviting me to have my un-censured thoughts. It's said that Russian rivers are slow and meandering. Maybe the river with its reflective edges and soft sky above is saying, "For heaven's sake, slow down."

But I'm also thinking that regulations have been recently rolled back that protect our own nation's rivers and streams. It's no longer required to safeguard the water from coal mine runoff and coal waste dumping. What's wrong with us? We've discovered with alarm that the water of Flint, Michigan is poisoning the little children causing birth defects and sickness. The care of rivers and streams is a pro-life issue!

The three boys in the Book of the Prophet Daniel who sang their canticle from the fiery furnace teach us: Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas and streams. We've lost our spiritual vision when we neglect the care of water - which is essentially what we're made of and was used for our baptism. I'd add, that to leave the streams, rivers, seas and oceans so vulnerable, is to insult God who gave them to us as life-source. A God-insult is called blasphemy. I don't even like the sound of that word.


  1. The landscape seems plain and barren, lacking in trees and larger shrubs and plants. I wonder if the river is lost in its own thoughts as it winds its way through the rolling landscape all alone. It brings a melancholy feeling to me as I think of the painting and read the post below it.

    1. Our night time dreams tell a great deal about our un-conscious life, but it is said that even our day dreams - the meandering thoughts we have while we are just sitting - these also reveal the unconscious.

  2. We pollute the water that we drink, the air that we breathe and the land in which we grow our food. Somewhere in time we have lost our forethought. I encourage everyone to do what you can to preserve the gifts that God gave us. Know that these beautiful landscape scenes could one day be something of a history lesson. We might tell our grandchildren that this is the way the earth "used" to look.

  3. Yes, infact the monastery we saw here a few days ago - is now disappeared underwater, as a dam built in the 1950's caused the waters to back up, creating a huge hydro-electric resevoir. Levitan's painting does indeed remind us of the way the world "used to look".

  4. A slowly meandering river has already forcefully carved it's way in the world. It has seen many changes and knows the path it must now take. The days of its wild youth are behind it so now the river takes its time to enjoy the peaceful quiet, providing fresh water to those who care to stop at its banks, and a home to aquatic life as well as irrigation to the surrounding land. The river gives of itself as much as it can before it fades away and is gone. We should pay more attention to preserving the gifts of the natural world as they are all ways that God shows his love for us.

  5. Although this doesn't seem as intensely detailed as some of his other paintings, Levitan does a good job of drawing us into the scene. Where does the river lead? Let me follow.