Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hunters in the Snow

(Hunters in the Snow, 1565, by Peter Bruegel the Elder,
1529?-1569, Dutch landscape painter)

In October, we looked at different examples of ekphrasis, or literary commentary about a work of art. (Scroll down to that month’s poems in the “blog archives” in the column to the right.)

The first verse below is one of ten poems that William Carlos Williams wrote about paintings by Bruegel the Elder.


The over-all picture is winter
icy mountains
in the background the return

from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in

their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix

between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire

that flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond

the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen

a winter-struck bush for his
foreground to
complete the picture

~ William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), American poet and practicing physician

John Berryman’s poem about the same painting adds a more fateful scenario, in the future, viewed retrospectively.


The three men coming down the winter hill
In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds
At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,
Past the five figures at the burning straw,
Returning cold and silent to their town,
Returning to the drifted snow, the rink
Lively with children, to the older men,
The long companions they can never reach,
The blue light, men with ladders, by the church
The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,

Are not aware that in the sandy time
To come, the evil waste of history
Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow
Of that same hill: when all their company
Will have been irrecoverably lost,

These men, this particular three in brown
Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
By their configuration with the trees,
The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
What place, what time, what morning occasion

Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
Thence to return as now we see them and
Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.

~ John Berryman (1917-1972), American poet

1 comment:

the old gentleman said...

Yes, and consider Auden on Bruegel and the Fall of Icarus...