Friday, April 27, 2012

I was  about ten days too late for the cherry blossoms in DC this Easter break. They had blossomed early because of the early, unseasonably warm weather.They were a gift to Washington, DC by the city of Tokyo in 1912.

I walked along the mall anyway, to the Lincoln Memorial. I visit it every time I go to DC. The architect was Henry Bacon, the sculptor of the primary statue was Daniel Chester French, and the painter of the interior murals was Charles Guerin. It stands on the opposite end of the mall from the Washington Monument, which always sruck me as cold and abstract by comparison. The mall seems to be in perpetual renovation, but that does not distract from the number of monuments around it.These two monuments define the length of the mall area.

The Memorial never fails to move me. On this  visit I saw it near evening and it was already lit. It moves me partly because of its elevation and the extraordianry words of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural - both of which I teach - inscribed on its walls. But it is primarily because the scultor captured both the humanity and majesty of the man. Pictures of Lincoln show him to be tall, gaunt, almost ungainly,with deep , piercing yet wise eyes.The Memorial shows him seated and forceful, noble but not distant. Lincoln looks as if he could easily stand up, go down, and walk away, unemcumbered by the stone. That and the fact that visitors always have to ascend stairs, always looking up at the huge seated figure, make the visit a form of reverence for the man and his historical role.

The somber simplicity of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall,  designed by Maya Lin and completed in 1982, is a stark contrast to the Lincoln Memorial and to the other monuments in proximity to the mall. I also visit it whenever I am in DC.

There are always bunches of flowers or some personal mementos, some candles or small flags or even pictuires left near that extraordinary  written roll call of names. Even in the evening, there are people standing and searching the list of names or crying softly when they have located the names they were searching for.Sometimes they touch the names and bow their heads in prayer. Their pain made so public, is also intensely private.

The wall itself seems to rise out of the ground, slants graually up and stretches for a distance, several feet taller at its highest point, than the people who visit it,and slopes down again, like a huge black headstone for the fallen. I remember that at the time of the competition there was a strong reaction to the design. All that has melted away.And the solemn, black, polished stone with its precisely carved, perfectly spaced, equally sized list of names organized in stately columns, staggers the eyes by its simplicity and directness.

I plan to see the cherry blossoms bloom next year.

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