Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Zagajewski on Morandi, Degas, and Seurat

Painter and printmaker Giorgio Morandi
studying his subjects

The Center for Italian Modern Art's exhibit on Giorgio Morandi sent me in search of poems that honor his still life paintings. I found a lovely one by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland, in 1945; as an infant he was relocated with his family to western Poland. He has taught at the universities of Houston and Chicago. Zagajewski writes in Polish and many of his books of poetry and essays have been translated into English. He was considered one of the “Generation of ’68” or “New Wave” writers in Poland. His early work was protest poetry but more recent work is marked by a wit and irony that delivers a more subtle message. The titles of his collections suggest some of his concerns: Tremor (1985), Mysticism for Beginners (1997), and World Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002). 


Even at night, the objects kept vigil,
even as he slept, with African dreams;
a porcelain jug, two watering cans,
Still Life, 1956
empty green wine bottles, a knife.
Even as he slept, deeply, as only creators
can sleep, dead-tired,
the objects were laughing, revolution was near.

The nosy watering can with its beak
feverishly incited the others;
blood pulsed wildly in the cup,
which had never known the thirst of a mouth,
only eyes, gazes, vision.

By day, they grew humble, and even took pride:
the whole coarse existence of the world
Corner of a Factory, ca. 1883
found refuge in them,
abandoning for a time the blossoming cherry,
the sorrowful hearts of the dying.

George Seurat: Factory
(a drawing in the de Menil collection, Houston)
for Jacek Waltos

In the mountains, on the map’s edge, where the grass is brash and
     sharp as deserters’ bayonets, a forgotten factory rises.
We don’t know if it’s dawn or dusk. We only know one thing:
     here, in this glum building, light is being born.
Silent slaves with the narrow, transparent faces of Byzantine
     monks turn an enormous dynamo and ignite the golden
     sparks of dawn in the globe’s farthest reaches. Some cry,
     others smoke stylish cigarettes as light as a sparrow’s breath.         
     They don’t answer questions: their tongues have been cut out.
Right beneath the wall, where the black weeds grow, darkness has
     hidden. It’s absolutely still. The world’s hair grows.

Degas: The Milliner’s Shop
The Milliner's Shop, ca. 1884
The hats are innocent, bathed
in a soft light blurring their forms.
The girl is hard at work.
But where are the brooks? The groves?
Where’s the sensuous laughter of the nymphs?
The world is hungry, and one day
it will invade this peaceful room.
For the time being it’s appeased by ambassadors
announcing: I’m ocher.
And I’m sienna. I’m the color of terror,
like ash. Ships drown in me.
I’m the color blue, I’m cold,
I can be ruthless.
And I’m the color of death,
I’m endlessly patient.
I’m purple (you can barely see me),
triumphs and parades are mine.
I’m green, I’m tender,
I live in wells and birch leaves.
The girl, with her deft fingers,
doesn’t hear voices, since she’s mortal.
She thinks about next Sunday,
and her date with the butcher’s son
who has thick lips
and big hands
stained with blood.

1 comment:

  1. the combination of your awesome art works and the literary piece you have done makes this blog quite stand out lisa i am a frequent visitor to your blog keep up the good job