To My Father

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I’ve been trying to write a long poem in tribute to my father who was a Wordsworth enthusiast. Needless to say, I have found it very difficult and don’t know what to make of my attempt. This is the beginning. The good thing about a blog is you can float ideas to try out. This is not a finished draft; merely a first attempt!

*

Is it for this an un-bridged chasm yawned between us?

I know I turned away from your literary conversations

and when you wrote your annotations, but be sure, that now

I venerate your Everyman hardback. Now you’re no longer

able to converse with Wordsworth or with me I’ll try

and bridge the widening gap. I’ve paid homage today

by gluing the loose spine and placing your book on my altar.

*

You didn’t annotate De Quincey’s quip, that Wordsworth’s legs

were certainly not ornamental so I wonder if you smiled

when you followed De Quincey’s meandering steps. Did you

chuckle when you read that beside a tall clergyman

Wordsworth’s figure appeared “mean” and he walked

like a beetle, even edging his companions off the highway?

Once you attached a grapnel around his eyes and underscored:

there was a light as if radiating from some spiritual world

the light that never was on land or sea.

I’m in concord here and throw a rope to the other side, hoping

I can narrow the distance. I’m following a convoluted path

here and now but recognise your footprints: your battles

en route and with the dimming light. Some footholds

afford some security and I can rest awhile. I travel on

and glimpse a finger-post pointing to a deep ravine;

I hope there’s a permissive path beyond the gorse.

*

I was a toddler trailing clouds of glory when you read

about your hero’s legs. Like his, yours conquered many a peak

and cut a path through scrub and gorse. Years later I came to myself

in a dark wood: I knew I had lost the way. If only I had

talked to you about Dante’s Labyrinthine Way!

Your furrow then was straight and certain, a bulwark against

the distractions of the world. You underlined in pencil;

he was guarded from too early intercourse with the deformities

of crowded life. In the ensuing years your naming of parts

obscured both our paths. You named the poetic faculty

as the highest good. I find your longer sentences difficult

to follow even with a magnifying glass. You turned his Ode

around and wrote horizontally. There is little that’s fugitive

but his spots of time became your asterisks; his radical ideas

your ‘toning down.’

I lay down my words in the shadow of yours;

I underline the verses next to yours and tomorrow I’ll copy out

your longer passages before they fade from view. My hands

touch the edge of both our worlds on this cold day.

A double underlining for the powers of reason and nature

thus reciprocally teacher and taught – you can be my guide

even at this late date. I know that, a voice without imagination

cannot be heard. Is it for this that I am searching for the signs?

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Giotto Replies to Giorgio Vasari

st-francis-receiving-the-stigmata

I’ve been reading and re-reading Giorgio Vasari’s remarkable Lives of the Artists. It is often described as among the most readable and influential art history books ever! Click on the painting to enlarge.

Although Vasari often gets dates wrong and some of his stories are embroidered he writes in a very accessible style. In fact it is his humorous anecdotes about artists that appealed to me first of all; they are a mixture of revealing information about the artists’ methods and projects and more questionable dealings with cardinals, popes and other artisans.

I have started a number of poems – imagining some of the artists replying to Vasari. This gives a lot of scope for different ‘voices’ and I may delevop the poems into a book. Here is the first one.

As I am persuing the book idea I won’t be posting any more poems in the series here because of copyright.

 

Giotto Replies to Giorgio Vasari

You said the illusion of three dimensions

started with me. This was a heavy burden

to shoulder but I bowed to your good taste

and decorum and the manner

in which you encompassed my perfect freehand circle.

It was more than enough for the tondo 1who asked,

“Is this all you can do?” Thanks to you everyone

can see the child Giotto scratching a sheep on a rock

his father’s flock nibbling nearby. Cimabue saw me

too and took me under his wing, the pupil soon

to outstrip the master so you said. Yes, I was ahead

of my time – your refrain became my guiding star.

* *

When the king of Naples watched me at work

he thought I was so ahead of my time he offered

to make me the first man of Naples. I told him

I already was as I lived next to the city gates

where my name went before me.

* *

Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t you talk

of my stunning sense of colour and excellent technique,

again so much ahead of my time, although I seem

to remember something about a sea fret making

the pigments run; you know those frescoes on the walls

of Campo Santo. My fourteen foot angel in St Peter’s

was so ahead of my time you thought it sang, you

saw it levitate, you thought it was made of ethereal paint.

* *

Giorgio, I am honoured you thought I was created

to shed new light on the art of painting. That I was

ahead of my time; but, you know that painting

of St Francis? – you forgot to mention the laser beams

zapping the stigmata onto the saint’s hands and feet

*

1Tondo in Tuscany can mean both a circle and slow-witted.