Pieter Bruegel’s The Dark Day
Spring must start always as a dark day
where golden light is only underpainting,
glimmering everywhere and nowhere,
highlights to an overshadowed, windwracked time.
Beneath the scene delicate buds of light
carefully unsheathe their brief flags of colour.
On the surface all is austere, seasoned
for the harsh weather that falls between
days of ice-white calm and full-flowing green.
The lowland thaw sprouts small leaves on trees
along the shore, but mountain and fortress
still dream under massive drifts of snow.
A man devours Mardi Gras waffles
one after another, oblivious
to his gaunt wife, who begs one
for the pudgy child who wears a Mardi Gras
crown of paper and carries a lantern.
Greedy father and greedy son
both daydream about tomorrow’s festival
in the town square at Hertogenbosch.
Their dreams are another picture by Bruegel.
But the man lifts his snack beyond the reach
of wife and child. His eating is a music
he makes for himself, a tune blown sweetly
through a panpipe into almost-spring air.
All day he has been pruning willows
and he thinks now he cannot live without
this moment of greedy devouring.
The season’s darkness, too, is hungry.
In the vast harbor mouth a dozen ships
break apart in the jagged teeth
of the brutal equinoctial storm.
Strangely, the fierce winds do not bend
the skeletal trees of the calm foreground.
As always, dreams of close and dreams of far
refuse to interlock. Auden told us so.
I can almost see his legs, somewhere,
disappearing into the cool green.
This poem was first published in Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art, by Joseph Stanton, Time Being Books, 1999.
Read The Ekphrastic Review's interview with Joseph Stanton, here.
Joseph Stanton is Professor Emeritus of Art History and American Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has published six books of poems: Moving Pictures, Things Seen, Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art, A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban Oahu, Cardinal Points, and What the Kite Thinks: A Linked Poem (co-authored with Makoto Ooka, Wing Tek Lum, and Jean Toyama). Over 500 of his poems have appeared previously in The Ekphrastic Review, Poetry, Harvard Review, New Letters, Poetry East, Ekphrasis, Image, Antioch Review, Cortland Review, New York Quarterly, and many others. His awards include the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award, the Ekphrasis Prize, the James Vaughan Poetry Award, the Ka Palapala Pookela Award for Excellence in Literature, and the Cades Award for Literature.
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