My Life Voyage Along the Hudson

The Voyage of Life

Yesterday I wrote about a song that inspired my subheading and photo for this blog.  As I thought about that song it brought back memories  of a small series of paintings that I first fell in love with as a young woman in New York, where I grew up.  From the front lawn of my  high school, you could see the Hudson River.  I feel like I am making my life’s journey right along with these paintings, and have been for years.

Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School has a series of four breathtaking paintings that depict the seasons of life.  Looking at these you sense the natural flow of life with all its pageantry, intensity,  and simplicity.  You move from being the child in the boat expectantly cruising into life with the protection of angels through the strong and determined, sometimes tumultuous,  images of youth and middle age to  the final painting of old age, where one returns to the angels . The tones are muted and soft, somewhat mystical.   The struggles are resolved.   The journey is complete and bears the same human dignity as one inhales  throughout the progression of time as Cole depicts it.   

Will my writing help me journal my way through my own trip down the Hudson, the river I was born alongside of.  Will this writing connect me in ways I don’t yet know to a wider community where the writing of others will create new places  for to me to climb a mountain and turn around, moved by what others have shared with me, and seeing the path before me….

To see Thomas Cole’s four paintings called the Voyage of Life, paste this short 3 minute clip into your browser, or hit control click and it might just take you directly there.   Cole painted the first one in 1842.  The story of man’s  destiny  to move through the stages of life is portrayed in an ethereal  and  mystical fashion, which nevertheless feels very real

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0tKdL0QcgQ  The Voyage of Life

I used this a couple years ago with a class. I placed large prints from the Smithsonian on desks and divided my class into 4 groups.  Each group of students had to write using their picture.  They could talk about what they saw in the picture first, and what if  meant  to them.  Then they had to write about what they saw and how it could relate to their lives.  These paintings are on display right here in D.C  That year we visited the museum which made it all the more meaningful.  Students gave me some wonderful reactions to the paintings.  Group discussion helped the ones who were originally stuck.    Probing questions can help get the thought process started as well.  I actually forgot I had these prints tucked away in my closet at school until I started writing this.  If you wanted to do this activity with a class, you could just use the link provided above.   I think I will try that again this year, and maybe share  a few favorite lines from what students write.  No matter how many times I have studied these paintings over the years, the innocent and honest glance of a middle schooler always gives me a new insight.

6 thoughts on “My Life Voyage Along the Hudson

  1. As a teacher, a favorite fieldtrip is to the National Gallery of Art! As I read your thoughtful post, I recalled those enormous 4 painting, so easy to compare and contrast and discuss the symbolism of the 4 stages of a life. My favorite part of your post is how you ponder your own trip down the Hudson. I especially love how your childhood setting relates to these amazing works of art. And you’ve given me a possible lesson, too to try with my students – viewing art and discussing it!! Thanks for sharing. I am so glad you are a slicer this year!!

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    1. I am really glad I am doing this too. I haven’t written with this kind of every day consistency before. Pondering these paintings brought back memories of the Hudson and my hometown and the next couple pieces I post here are about that. I also love the National Gallery as a field trip destination. You are welcome to borrow my prints to initiate your lesson. Incorporating an idea from you, maybe I will have students also make a notebook page featuring one of the stages.

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  2. I listened to “Landslide” last night – it takes me back to my college days – love that song. I noticed that in both yesterday’s post, and today’s, you talk about change. Change from childhood to old age. Like Sally, my favorite part of your post is where you talk about your own trip down the Hudson – great metaphor for life.
    (And I love that you use art in your classroom!)

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    1. You are right. The changes you go through in life as you progress from youth to an older age have been on my mind. Also, I have been appreciating the ability to experience those changes and grow older, an opportunity not everyone gets. This blog has really inspired me to be reflective about those changes and to think about what stands out to me and what I will see that has left a lasting impression on others in their lives.

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  3. Isn’t it wild, really how once you start writing, it makes you think of something and then a memory returns, and so on? That’s one of the magical things about it. Congrats on Day Three – you’re on a roll! I have to tell you that I also also born beside a river (in Virginia). Rivers are so symbolic – lots to muse on there. Looking forward to where your “river-ride”/Voyage of Life leads. Oh, and congrats most of all on your grandchild!! 🙂

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