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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


(Spring — March, April, May, 1565 by Peter Bruegel
the Elder, 1529?-1569, Dutch landscape painter)

This painting is one of Bruegel’s intriguing glimpses of life in the Netherlands during the sixteenth-century. (Click on the image to see an enlarged version of the picture.) It is in two parts, reflecting the divisions of the society. At the top, in the back, by the manor house, is life as experienced by the landowner and his family and friends, dressed in their finery, feasting, dancing, and listening to music. Across the moat, in the foreground, lies the French formal garden of this wealthy family. The farm workers are tending to the grain and fruit crops, the lambs and calves, the bees for honey and wax, and the sheep for wool. Connecting the two worlds is the lady of the manor, seen guiding the planting of seeds as she stands by the worker on the ladder at the right.


Watching hands transplanting,
Turning and tamping,
Lifting the young plants with two fingers,
Sifting in a palm-full of fresh loam, —
One swift movement, —
Then plumping in the bunched roots,
A single twist of the thumbs, a tamping and turning,
All in one,
Quick on the wooden bench,
A shaking down, while the stem stays straight,
Once, twice, and a faint third thump, —
Into the flat-box it goes,
Ready for the long days under the sloped glass:

The sun warming the fine loam,
The young horns winding and unwinding,
Creaking their thin spines,
The underleaves, the smallest buds
Breaking into nakedness,
The blossoms extending
Out into the sweet air,
The whole flower extending outward,
Stretching and reaching.

~ Theodore Roethke (1903-1963), American poet

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