Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Poet Helen Engelhardt's Vermeers

Helen Engelhardt, poet, writer, storyteller and independent audio producer of Midsummer Sound Company, lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has appeared in national journals and international anthologies, her audiobooks nominated for "audies", her storytelling performance awarded the Hemingway Days prize. Poems featured here are part of a series inspired by Vermeer's paintings. "I chose Vermeer because his body of work is, with only four exceptions, focused entirely on the intimate, interior life of women. " Visit her at midsummersoundcompany.com.

The Music Lesson
Musica Letitiae Comes Medicina Doloris * 

At the other end of a long room
the lady and the cavalier alone at last
stand in silence, the virginal between them

He is captivated. His hand clasps the edge
of the instrument, declaring his intentions.
His unguarded face awaits her mercy.

She is her own pedestal. Her skirts,
a fluted column, neither resist nor comply.
Her back is to us, her face a blur

in the enigmatic mirror. We will never learn
her reply, nor look upon the face of the master
who shows us his easel reflected above

her head. Others reveal themselves
at work in miniature. He gives us the world
in the mirror, wherein we can lose ourselves.

Nothing intimate is uncovered here
but the nape of her neck, the back of the man
in the painting on the wall: a naked prisoner

who kneels before an unseen lady.
He is receiving Roman Charity. The lesson
is over. The music has not yet begun.

(Roman Charity or The Story of Cimon and Pero was the name of a genre painting favored at the time, depicting a naked man suckling the breast of a clothed lady standing before him. Pero suckled her imprisoned father who had been condemned to die by starvation.)

* Words written on the lid of the virginal, “Music, the companion of joy, the balm of sorrow”

Woman Holding a Balance

At noon a beam of light decides                                 Would that my judge, serene
to witness the judgment in this room                           as this woman burgeoning,
suspends a balance in the air                                     will find at the end

jewels poised upon her palms.                                   both my soul and my songs abiding.

View of Delft

Earth has nothing to show fairer
than Delft adrift between clouds
and their reflections. A faience of russet
walls and tiled roofs, gleams
of gold along the quays, canals
enameled green and blue. All clues
are concealed in the scrubbed cobbles. Tulip
fever once inflamed this citadel
of sobriety, shook Delft to its foundations.
The Thunderclap burst the arch
of heaven, blew away streets
with people, buried Fabritius, his canvas
and the man sitting for his portrait, under
the ruins of his home.  Gliding under
the open mouthed bridges, dark
waters mirror windows.  Did fire
ever devour everything except
the pointed turrets of the East Gate?
All seems so serene.
The most beautiful light in the world peals
through a carillon of leaves, across
the alleys, across the River Schie
to a building overlooking the port, to a window
on the second floor.  The natural light
of the mind.  You can stand today where he stood,
overlooking the natural-gas reservoir,
some new houses. The design remains
and so does the water.

(Vermeer was a pupil of Carel Fabritius, who, when he died in an explosion of gunpowder known as The Thunderclap in 1654, was a young painter of great promise)

in homage to William Wordsworth

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