Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rachel Hadas on Botticelli's "Venus and Mars"

Venus and Mars, c 1483. Tempera on panel
Mars and Venus
by Rachel Hadas
(Botticelli, ca. 1475)

Gold tape gently billowing with her breathing,
triple V’s at bosom and sleeve and ankle
point to partings, leading the eye to where her
                                    body emerges.

Wait: This painting is an enormous V-ness.
Look how unemphatically, almost absent-
ly her left hand seems to be plucking one more
                                    labial gilded

entry between her waist and her knee. Reclining,
she becomes a series of languid valleys
who herself creates an entire other
                                    landscape of V-ness

in her consort. Slumbering, numb, the war-god—
head thrown back; neck, shoulders, torso open—
seems oblivious equally to the lady
                                    and to the satyrs,

naughty toddlers, trying on Mars’s helmet,
blowing conches into his ear, or crawling
gleefully through his corselet, their behavior
                                    an awful nuisance

all for nothing. Here in this vague green valley
lamb and lion, love and war are united
by indifference equally to these babies
                                    and to each other.

Do the little faunlets call Mars their Daddy?
Either way, his answer is not forthcoming.
Drained by amorous combat, the god is elsewhere.
                                    Vigilant Venus

gazes, not at him, nor at us, but rather
seems the merest eyeflick away from over-
seeing Sandro putting the final touches
                                    onto his family

portrait: Mars and Venus, it’s called. Or Father
sleeps while Mother’s keeping a watchful eye out
not on the children (are these the couple’s children?)
                                    but beyond; elsewhere.

Violence sleeps. Desire is in need of further
sustenance: her V’s are unfilled, her fingers
seem to press, to promise, half hiding, showing
                                    translucent treasures

he has seen and savored to satisfaction.
Rhyming, secret, intimate, and familiar,
their two mysteries mingle in this: deferral
                                    of ever after.

Rachel Hadas reading:

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