Poem-A-Day: William Carlos Williams

Auden’s poem about Brueghel’s painting cannot make an appearance, in my mind, without also acknowledging William Carlos Williams’ poem on the same painting, on the same subject. The two poets’ styles couldn’t be much more different from each other, and Williams’ poem also relies more heavily on description than many ekphrastic poems. Yet it still highlights the most salient feature of Brueghel’s painting, titled as it was. It still conveys, through brevity, diction, and line/stanza breaks used as punctuation, a gut-punch of despair for the futility of Icarus’ sacrifice, of Daedalus’ trauma.

***

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

 

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

 

 

LANDSCAPE WITH THE FALL OF ICARUS by Pieter Breughel

Poem-A-Day: W.H. Auden (again)

Here’s another poem by Auden. It’s one of my favorites and is my first go-to when teaching ekphrastic poetry. I love that the first stanza of the poem, which comprises more than half of it, isn’t really about the painting at all, but about the theme Auden believed the painter was getting at. This, I think, is the most important aspect to an ekphrastic poem: that it doesn’t really describe the art it’s about so much as it responds to it. It continues a dialogue begun by the initial artist.

This concept might seem simple at first, but I’ve found in teaching this form for many years that it’s not as easy to put into practice. So here’s a bit of a challenge for you, should you choose to accept it: write an ekphrastic poem and either post it at your own online space and link to it here in the comments, or else email it to me at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com. Be sure to include the original artwork you’re responding to. (I still have a spot or two open later this month, and maybe your poem will be curated into the mix here.)

***

Musée des Beaux Arts

 

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

 

LANDSCAPE WITH THE FALL OF ICARUS by Pieter Brueghel

National Poetry Month — Day 6

Yesterday’s post reminds me of another fragment, this one from an ekphrastic poem I wrote in response to Cranach, the Elder’s painting Suicide of Lucretia (1529).

 

This painting is on display in Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
This painting is on display in Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

 

But she calls to my modern lie
from a time when beauty must have been
a function of virtue, and virtue a function
of obedience.

.

Ekphrasis #1

kids, ca. 1981
photo taken by MaryBeth Jamail, probably in 1981

I wrote this sonnet when I was in college, meditating on the theme of love presumed to be inherent in the sonnet form. I thought, love takes many forms, and so, this…

***

Lullaby for a Crying Child

When my cousin died (olive skin and thick
black hair and twelve years old laid under dirt
and roses) I realized that death is
not a one-way gate, but is a long silk skirt

in the rain:  shadows of skin inside the silk
(bare legs running to get inside, get warm)
stick to my skirt until I peel the silk
from my skin, and hang it in the bathroom.

My cousin (body of a child with eyes
and mind that have just turned twenty-three)
visits me in my sleep, touches my fingers, and I
look at him, then through him, and he leaves me

but not alone.  And I wake to rain and
my skirt dripping from the shower curtain rod.

***

This poem originally appeared in my first published volume of poems, Gypsies.