Robert Lax

One of the most extraordinary people I have had the privilege to meet and photograph has been Robert Lax.

While on assignment in Greece during 1999, I asked for the rare opportunity to photograph Robert. He agreed and asked me what he should do. I told him to close his eyes, and when he was ready, to open them. Two frames on medium format film was all that I got before he said thank you and was escorted away by his students.

What made the meeting so memorable was the peace, love and serenity that this man radiated. Without saying a word he changed my life.

 

Robert Lax (November 30, 1915 – September 26, 2000) was an American poet, known in particular for his association with famed 20th century Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton. A third friend of his youth, whose work sheds light on both Lax and Merton, was Ad Reinhardt. During the latter period of his life, Lax resided on the island of Patmos, Greece. Considered by some to be a self-exiled hermit, he nonetheless welcomed visitors to his home on the island, but did nothing to court publicity or expand his literary career or reputation.

Lax attended Columbia University in New York City, where he studied with the poet and critic Mark Van Doren. Lax graduated in 1938. On leaving school, he worked for several mainstream magazines, including The New Yorker and Time before he began his process of moving into a simple life. An expert juggler, he worked in a circus for some time during his initial years of wandering.

He lived the last 35 years of his life in the Greek islands, most recently on Patmos.

Lax wrote hundreds of poems and dozens of books in his long career, but never reached the level of recognition that some of his peers say he deserves. Jack Kerouac called Lax “one of the great original voices of our times … a Pilgrim in search of beautiful innocence”.

One of his most acclaimed works was Circus of the Sun, a book of poems metaphorically comparing the circus to Creation. Called by a critic in The New York Times Book Review “perhaps the greatest English language poem of this century”, an excerpt was handed out to those attending Lax’s funeral at St. Bonaventure University Sept. 29:

And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere:
all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed
beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love
had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a
sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof
rose a fountain.

During the latter period of his life, Lax resided on the island of Patmos, Greece. Considered by some to be a self-exiled hermit, he nonetheless welcomed visitors to his home on the island, but did nothing to court publicity or expand his literary career or reputation.

– From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia