Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ekphrasis from the conference

The first of several ekphrastic poems read at this past week's conference:

View of Delft

By: Carl Dennis

In the view of Delft that Vermeer presents us
The brick facades of the unremarkable buildings
Lined up at the river’s edge manage to lift the spirits
Though the sky is cloudy. A splash of sun
That yellows some gables in the middle distance
May be enough to explain it, or the loving detail
Vermeer has given the texture of brick and stone
As if he leveled each course with his own trowel.
Doubtless stones in Cleveland or Buffalo
May look like this on a day when the news arrives
That a friend is coming to visit, but the stones in the painting
Also put one in mind of the New Jerusalem,
A city we’ve never seen and don’t believe in.
Why eternal Jerusalem when the people of Delft
Grow old and die as they do in other cities,
In high-ceilinged airy rooms and in low-beamed
Smoky basements, quickly, or after a stubborn illness,
Alone, or surrounded by friends who will soon feel Delft
To be a place of abandonment, not completion?
Maybe to someone returning on a cloudy day
After twenty years of banishment the everyday buildings
Can look this way or to someone about to leave
On a journey he isn’t ready to take. But these moods
Won’t last long while the mood in the painting
Seems undying, though the handful of citizens
Strolling the other side of the river are too preoccupied
To look across and admire their home.
Vermeer has to know that the deathless city
Isn’t the Delft where he’ll be walking to dinner
In an hour or two. As for your dinner, isn’t it time
To close the art book you’ve been caught up in,
Fetch a bottle of wine from the basement, and stroll
Three blocks to the house where your friend is waiting?
Don’t be surprised if the painting lingers awhile in memory
And the trees set back on a lawn you’re passing
Seem to say that to master their language of gestures
Is to learn all you need to know to enter your life
And embrace it tightly, with a species of joy
You’ve yet to imagine. But this joy, disguised,
The painting declares, is yours already.
You’ve been longing again for what you have.

from New and Selected Poems 1974-2004 (Penguin Books, 2004).

No comments: