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A Lamentation for the Gulf

Exquisite Corpse, Photography by Naomi Pitcairn –

On this the 55th day of BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, as tens of thousands of gallons of oil continue to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, the heartbreaking vandalism of the sentient ocean’s population is unimaginable. According to the Center for Public Integrity, BP accounted for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government inspectors.” This willful and egregious trespass against wildlife of the Gulf Coast of Mexico amassed in the name of high speed gross profit is truly unconscionable.

I have been holding on to these Exquisite Corpse photographs by Naomi Pitcairn, waiting for larger meditation to take shape in my mind, but I keep returning to these portraits of prematurely deceased animals for their simple beauty and sympathetic tone. They are a fitting elegy to all those who will fall prey to the waste of this heedless corporate catastrophe.

There are further associations that come to mind as I examine Pitcarins’s work, that feel appropriate in light of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. The Exquisite Corpse series closely resonates with the Schiller poem and subsequent Brahms choral work Nänie Op. 82, 1881, whose opening line reads, “Auch das Schöne muß sterben!, Even Beauty must perish!” Brahms set to music Schiller’s text to honor the death his friend, artist Anselm Feuerbach, a painter of classical antiquity. The title derives from the ancient Latin term noenia, a funeral song traditionally sung by the surviving parents of the deceased, implying that the lamented dead were not only beautiful, but most likely young. This Brahms is no torpid dirge, it is, in fact, most remarkable for its loveliness. The opening solo oboe affects a calling to another world, a fearless crossing over. The music of Nänie invites the listener to contemplate ceaslessness, with acceptance.

Please find the Schiller poem and Brahms Nänie .mp3 directly below the Exquisite Corpse presentation.

Exquisite Corspes

© Naomi Pitcairn

Johannes Brahms
Nänie for Choir and Orchestra Op. 82,
Bamberger Symphoniker – Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie, with the Bavarian Radio Chorus, Conducted by Robin Tocciati

Nänie, poem by Friedrich Schiller

The beautiful, too, must die! that which subjugates men and gods
Does not stir the brazen heart of the Stygian Zeus
Only once did love melt the Lord of shadows,
And just at the threshold, he strictly yanked back his gift.
Aphrodite does not heal the beautiful boy’s wound,
Which the boar ripped cruelly in that delicate body.
Neither does the immortal mother save the dive hero
When, falling at the Scaean Gate, he fulfills his fate.
She ascends from the sea with all the daughters of Nereus,
And lifts up a lament for her glorious son.
Behold! the gods weep; all the goddesses weep,
That the beautiful perish, that perfection dies.
But to be a dirge on the lips if loved ones can be a marvelous thing;
For that which is common goes down to Orcus in silence.

Auch das Schöne muß sterben! Das Menschen und Götter bezwinget,
Nicht die eherne Brust rührt es dem stygischen Zeus.
Einmal nur erweichte die Liebe den Schattenbeherrscher,
Und an der Schwelle noch, streng, rief er zurück sein Geschenk.
Nicht stillt Aphrodite dem schönen Knaben die Wunde,
Die in den zierlichen Leib grausam der Eber geritzt.
Nicht errettet den göttlichen Held die unsterbliche Mutter,
Wann er am skäischen Tor fallend sein Schicksal erfüllt.
Aber sie steigt aus dem Meer mit allen Töchtern des Nereus,
Und die Klage hebt an um den verherrlichten Sohn.
Siehe! Da weinen die Götter, es weinen die Göttinnen alle,
Daß das Schöne vergeht, daß das Vollkommene stirbt.
Auch ein Klagelied zu sein im Mund der Geliebten ist herrlich;
Denn das Gemeine geht klanglos zum Orkus hinab.


  1. David Morris says:


  2. rita valencia says:

    In these photographs, the beautiful is somehow repugnant for it’s very beauty, heartbreaking in its use of designer color. These are perfect advertisements for the end of materialism, and the beginning of meditation. Thanks Naomi & Nancy

  3. Guy Zimmerman says:

    I think you expressed it perfectly, Rita. The beauty is painful and subversive in a very sly way…it’s very strong and compelling work. Makes me want to see more….!


  4. Linda Hoag says:

    The first word that came to my mind, upon viewing these images, was, “mercy.” What a kindness it is to document these small deaths, so inescapably connected to our own. The poem and the music are a perfect counterpoint. Thanks, Naomi and Nancy.

  5. Charles R. Dickens says:

    As life and death are interconnected so are beauty and horror and everything in dichotomy. One cannot exist without the other and without the opposite each becomes indescribable.

    BP is no more to blame than the system that created it and fostered its growth. The inspection system in this country is broken – evidence BP latest spill. Who do we blame; not the parent but the child? Our governmental system of checks and balances enabled this disaster yet we point in error at the child. BP did no more and no less than what they are allowed to do. Being caught in the act BP pays the price of rectification and conciliation; the parent in this case if sufficiently distant to skirt culpability. We again miss the target for we are the system.

    The beauty present in this world is often overshadowed by our horror at its loss, yet the beauty does not cease to exist. The horror of this situation is evident because of the inevitable interference of our greed. Now we are outraged… Now we lament the loss. Where is the indignation for the enabler?

  6. Thank you for connecting these touching photos, poem and music to the oil spill. The millions of “small” tragedies are easy to miss in the magnitude of the disaster.

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