The Song of Vincent Reconsidered

I was in high school when I first heard Don McLean’s tribute song to Vincent Van Gogh (also known as “Starry, Starry Night”). I found the song captivating and beautiful. One line of the song, however, troubled me. Near the end, as McLean reflects on the tragic death of the great artist, he sings,

“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

This line infuriated me. I saw it as a glorification of suicide. I thought of my Grandpa Joe Etsy and how angry I was at him for leaving his family behind. Beautiful? I don’t think so.

When I reflected on this on my blog in early 2013, I received a very passionate and thoughtful reply that completely changed my interpretation of this line, and enhanced my appreciation for the song.

From: Julia

Re: the line in McLean’s song

“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you,” I did not think he was suggesting suicide as the only resolution; in fact, quite the opposite. Note the entire context: “when no hope was left inside…you took your life as lovers often do. BUT (emphasis mine) I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant…”

To me, the “but I could have told you” implies that his tragic death might have been prevented if Vincent could have come to understand and accept that he would never be fully understood or appreciated by the world. Acceptance of this might have lessened the frustration and sorrow that exacerbated his depression, especially if that understanding came from a sympathetic friend, which McLean wistfully imagines he could have been.

It’s easy, of course, for us to imagine in hindsight that we would have been the sympathetic friend Vincent lacked. What haunts me is wondering how many Vincents we all pass by every day, without seeing…

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