Popular Posts

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Thoughts on the Musée des Beaux Arts

The images are: Botticelli's Martyrdom of S Sebastian and
A Crucifixion by Giovanni Bellini and Grünwald's Isenheim Altarpiece

About suffering were they never wrong,
Auden's old masters who beautified it,
crucified Christ in gardens of delight
and showed Sebastian as bright as song?
Grünwald alone among them was one strong
enough on truth to let flesh be corrupt,
while Bosch gave fantasy its nightmare flight
with carte blanche for the devil-throng.
But for life's darkest horrors truly told
come closer to our times: Guernica,
the shootings of the Third of May by Goya
or Kahlo's broken body... But does loss
less threaten dressed or with a gentle gloss?
Was that their unique flair, those men of old?

The images in order are: Picasso's Guernica, Goya's The Third of May (1808) and Frida Kahlo's Broken Spinal Column


Anairam said...

David, I kind of chanced upon your page via my castle in spain, and am blown away by the beauty of your poetry! I am not a poet, but I am an art history major, amongst other things, so your
Thoughts on the Musée des Beaux Arts poem really resonated. And the "cliché" one as well (even if you did it in 15 minutes ...) (Don't bother dropping in on my blog, it is très trivial!)

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

And, dear Dave, are you then now feeling close also to another poem by Auden that has been fascinating and really haunting me since the early 80's when I first read it:
"Horae Canonicae" with in particular the fourth section "Nones"?

It's a moment for me of questions like in my blog.....

confused said...

I never fail to come away from here with something learned and my horizon expanded thankyou

Conda V. Douglas said...

Another well-layered poem, Dave. And so true about Grunwald. First time I saw the center painting of the Altarpiece, I felt sick at my stomach. Such power.

Sorlil said...

I hadn't seen a picture of the Grunwald painting. I presume this the one Edwin Morgan refers to in his sonnet about Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross.

Dave King said...

Many thanks for dropping by and welcome. Thanks also for the kind words. Feedback of any sort is always useful.

Dave King said...


have read Horae Canonicae, but have no great knowledge of it. However, you have whatted mu appetite, I must go back to it. Thanks for that.

Dave King said...

Your comment is much appreciated.

Dave King said...


I think many have a reaction such as yours. He certainly holds nothing back, though the people for whom it was originally intended were probably hardened to such sights. It probably did make them feel He was one of them, though - which I am sure was the intention.

Dave King said...


I must confess that I am not familiar with the reference. I will try to track it down. I have done a quick Google, but without result. The image I give here is the central, and the only gruesome, panel of the altarpiece.

Sorlil said...

Here's a link to Morgan reading the poem -


Dave King said...


Thanks for that.

maekitso said...

Very beautiful and provocative.

Dave King said...


I have followed-up your reference and am grateful for the introduction to the poem. I am sure that the Isenheim Altarpiece is the painting referred to. For a good introduction to Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross click here

Jim Murdoch said...

Effective poem, Dave. I read it over several times. What I did note was that when I read 'does loss / less threaten dressed' every time I found myself reading 'threaten less'. I had to work hard to read it the way you wrote it.

Dave King said...


I did reply to your comment yesterday, but an at a loss to know what happened to it! Much appreciated, none the less.

Dave King said...

Thanks for the feedback. Interestingly, I had the same experience when I first came to read it back, but decided to stick with it anyway, contrary sort of guy that I am! - and I have just received an email from a guy who has trouble reading the first line: wants to read it as Auden wrote it, About suffering they were never wrong...