Dendrochronology

Cover art by Shida Cao
My short poem “Dendrochronology” is now published in the latest issue (Fall 2010) of Willows Wept Review. The poem was written after a visit to the exhibition “Closer Examinations: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” earlier this year. As the title suggests, the display centred on the art of uncovering the origins of paintings, particularly how ‘fakes’ and ‘mistakes’ are discovered through art scholarship and scientific technology.

One of the ways experts employ to determine the precise age of a panel painting is to examine the wood used. The technique is called ‘dendrochronology’, which is commonly known as ‘tree-ring dating’. This is how the method works:

By measuring the widths of individual growth rings in a sequence visible in the end grain of a wood panel it is possible to match the ring pattern against a master chronology and give a date for the last ring measured. 

tree rings

I was struck by the idea that one cannot fool nature. You cannot claim a painting to be older or younger than it actually is; the wood is a silent witness to time. I was also intrigued by the thought that while some paintings can have a visible history (for example, if they use wood panels), human relationships do not have physical identifiers to correspond with the time the people concerned have spent together. By the sheer look of two lovers, one cannot immediately tell their history. Of course, their facial expressions and gestures and the way they interact might reveal their level of intimacy. But these might be disingenuous; in other words, these can be ‘faked’.

In my poem, I ponder on the possibility of ‘measuring’ love objectively, like tree-ring dating. I also add a turn to it, inspired by the following description of the technique:

Dendrochronology can be used to date panels made from oak but cannot be used for poplar (most common in Italian painting) because their growth is too erratic. (via.)

Of course, poplar is also widely used for paper-making. That might change your understanding of the poem?

-Read the entire new issue of Willows Wept Review here.
-My poem “Hong Kong Summer” was published in the Summer 2009 issue.

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One thought on “Dendrochronology

  1. Love is digital
    A zero or a one
    All or Nothing
    Love goes the distance

    You cannot pour a cup of love
    You cannot measure a foot of love
    Love can not be bought and sold
    The heart does not work that way

    Love is boundless
    That's how I see it
    It's like electrons
    That extend to infinity

    yamabuki

    Like

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