Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Poet Ray Greenblatt Savors Très Riches Heures

Pennsylvania poet Ray Greenblatt proves his versatility as an ekphrastic scribe by finding inspiration in two French masterpieces: a 14th-century manuscript and a Le Corbusier-designed apartment building.

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is the most famous, and possibly the best surviving, example of French Gothic manuscript illumination. It is a book of hours, that is a collection of prayers to be said at the canonical hours, and was created between 1412 and 1416 for the royal bibliophile and patron John, Duke of Berry, by the Limbourg brothers. When the three painters and their sponsor died in 1416, possibly victims of the plague, the manuscript was left unfinished. An anonymous painter, who many art historians believe was Barthélemy d'Eyck, further embellished the book in the 1440s. From 1485 to 1489, it was brought to its present state by the painter Jean Colombe on behalf of the Duke of Savoy. Acquired by the Duc d'Aumale in 1856, the book is now MS 65 in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

In the city of Marseilles, residents of La Cité Radieuse can boast of living in an architectural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site, designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the late 1940s. 

The Book of Hours for the Duc de Berry

No babe lying in a manger
no man hanging on a cross

not in a book lying on a library carrel
but in a frame hanging on a wall
like a window, and
we are peering into

a very packed and busy chamber
to honor the Duc
noblemen and priests jammed around
a heavily laden refectory table 
with bread, wine, braces of baked birds in pies
à la Brueghel
dog like slobs in Hogarth
strange bulges in clothing
upon further study, subtle sword hilts
brilliant reds of crushed cochineal
highlighted by dabs and pats of gilt

out a window in the background
soft green hills of Chantilly
the Duc's troops standing ready

shimmering lapis lazuli overhead
with the Goat meeting the Water-bearer
as a New Year begins
and the wheel turns once again.

Corbusier Apartment House

in the highest style
nothing plumb
no corners to hide in
no safety of banisters
i'm in a lopsided melon

i climb the corridor
slide into the living room
shades of lemon
unmatched furnishings that match
at this mad hatter party
huge oval window protruding eyeball
in darkness
i feel my way around the walls
till i meet myself again

i rush outside and stare
it feels like indigestion
it looks like it's about to burst

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal and teaches a poetry course at Temple University. He organized two ekphrastic readings at the Wayne Art Center in Wayne. PA. His latest book is Twenty Years on Graysheep Bay (Sunstone Press).


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  2. Among my next year goals are painting. I have bee drawing for a while now, using pencils, and i think it about time i graduate. I appriciate the backgroung art of this blog and the information offered.