Camille c. 1890
Study the etching for five minutes, then write down
all the objects you can see hidden in Pissarro’s face.
Bear in mind he was born in St Thomas of Jewish stock,
would have been familiar with the breadfruit tree
and later fell in love with a Parisian kitchen maid.
Do not forget that berets, although soft, can conceal
a deep hatred for bourgeois society; that half-moons
worn just below the bridge of the nose, can reflect light
in such a way as to give the impression of surprise.
Remember that no pigment is used in his whiskers
yet they are incandescent, whiter than titanium-white.
Access to the area behind the beard can be gained
by entering the artist’s portrait through the open eyes.
Can you make out Madame Julie Pissarro, worried
by the lack of money as she does her needlework?
Undo a stash of letters from his son Lucien and find
a sketch of Esther Bensusan, standing in front
of her father’s warehouse, full of ostrich feathers.
See if you can spot four naked peasant girls,
bathing in a stream by a thicket, or clothed women
driving pea-stakes into the ground. Look out for a field
of ripe wheat, and try to understand how there could be
‘nothing more cold than the full summer sun.’
This poem first appeared in Stand, and was subsequently reprinted in Stephen Wilson's book Fluttering Hands, Greenwich Exchange, 2008.
Stephen Wilson is a psychiatrist turned critic and writer, who has lived and worked in Oxford, UK, for many years. He has published two collections of poems, Fluttering Hands and Things Hard for Thought. He is also the author of brief biographical studies of the first world war poet Isaac Rosenberg, and Sigmund Freud. In addition he has written The Bloomsbury Book of the Mind, Introducing the Freud Wars, The Cradle of Violence: Essays on Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Literature and a major study of modern Anglo-Jewish poetry, Poetics of the Diaspora. He has contributed numerous reviews and articles to academic journals and newspapers including Encounter, TLS, The Guardian, The Independent and New York Times. He translated Irène Némirovsky’s The Pawn on the Chessboard and The Child Prodigy from French. His most recent publication is “Study on the Szaszophone: Theme and variations” in Thomas Szasz: An Appraisal of his Legacy, Ed. C.V. Haldipur et al (2019) Oxford University Press.
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