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Anonymous Drawing -- Donald Justice

Guest poem submitted by Sunil Iyengar:
(Poem #503) Anonymous Drawing
 A delicate young Negro stands
 With the reins of a horse clutched loosely in his hands;
 So delicate, indeed, that we wonder if he can hold the spirited creature
        beside him
 Until the master shall arrive to ride him.
 Already the animal's nostrils widen with rage or fear.
 But if we imagine him snorting, about to rear,
 This boy, who should know about such things better than we,
 Only stands smiling, passive and ornamental, in a fantastic livery
 Of ruffles and puffed breeches,
 Watching the artist, apparently, as he sketches.
 Meanwhile the petty lord who must have paid
 For the artist's trip up from Perugia, for the horse, for the boy, for
        everything here, in fact, has been delayed,
 Kept too long by his steward, perhaps, discussing
 Some business concerning the estate, or fussing
 Over the details of his impeccable toilet
 With a manservant whose opinion is that any alteration at all would spoil it.
 However fast he should come hurrying now
 Over this vast greensward, mopping his brow
 Clear of the sweat of the fine Renaissance morning, it would be too late:
 The artist will have had his revenge for being made to wait,
 A revenge not only necessary but right and clever --
 Simply to leave him out of the scene forever.
-- Donald Justice
Since we're showcasing poems that deal with commerce between the visual and
literary arts, I thought some readers might enjoy this one. Justice was a
student of, among others, John Berryman, whose painterly poem, "Winter
Landscape" (after Brueghel) we read some days previously. That poem seems to me
more elegant in its compression; but, of course, Berryman wasn't aiming for the
glib wit of the Justice piece. Long lines with delayed terminal rhymes (see
lines 3, 12, and 16) call to mind Ogden Nash, yet Justice manages to escape the
light verse genre by his severe punchline: the ruthless omissions of artistic
choice. Small consolation for the slave, maybe, but a kind of Justice seems to
have been served by the slaveholder's extinction.

By claiming that the poet has eluded "the light verse genre," incidentally, I do
not wish to cast aspersions on the form. In many a poem, Justice shows memorably
what can be done with light verse proper, how it can surpass our expectations.

Sunil Iyengar.

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sadiri Ordinario said...

Comments on Donald Justice' Anonymous Drawing

This poem is a very racist poem IMHO. There are several
assumptions to be made to classify it as such. First, the Lord of
the manor (say) maybe taken as a white man. Of course the
black young man holding the horse's rein called with the denigrating
term of "boy" is described as "smiling (perhaps another word that is
really meant obseqious by the poet), passive and ornamental" a reverse
implication of the Caucasian race as dynamic, performance-oriented
and such. But the Negro looks to the artist. The artist here is said to
be from Perugia, a town in Italy which the poet could subtly have
denoted this to mean Latin or Hispanic races who are taken to be
inferior in that they spend their time in the arts more instead of doing
the world's business to improve their social or national status through
accumulation of wealth.

Yet Justice with tongue in cheek, describes the Lord as being engaged
in some petty discussion with a manservant (or steward) over the appearance
of his already impeccable toilet. This makes him lose his appointment
with the artist, the horse, the boy and the scenery being captured by the
artist on his medium.

And the Lord will not be able to be a part of the scenery no matter how
fast he hurries. It is like saying humdrum material things have no lasting part in
artistic things which are more of the spirit than of the "flesh" no matter how
expensive they can get.

---Sandi Ordinario

zhujunmm said...

Plz, can any kind soul help me interpret this poem because I totally have no
idea about what this poem is about!!!

Anonymous said...

Hmm I think Donald Justice :) Well article dude !

Beey Ben
New York, USA
zquiet & zquiet

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Anonymous said...

Guys, I honestly don't think this poem is racist. I beleive it does imply some form of slavery (they call the boy a negro) but they probably only call him a boy because he takes care of the horses (and what do we call people taking care of horses? boys, duh!). Because it is situated in the Renaissance, the presence of slavery probably shouldn't be shocking to us at all, and as for the artist, in the Renaissance many of them came from Italy (thus making it logical that this one comes from an Italian town...). Also it was never implied that the Lord was a white man (even though I agree that it is highly probable) and I beleive that the poet wants to denigrate the Lord, not promote him. Firstly he calls the Lord "petty" (what else could he possibly want to imply here??), then ( precising that this is solely my point of view) he makes him be delayed by futile matters such as his toilet purposfully so as to make the Lord appear as a snob, egocentric character. Finally I beleive that the poet wants to emphasize that the situation was the Lord's fault: the boy appears as a naif, simple person. He is obviously not meant to appear as a bright intellect but the fact that he is made to be naif moreover proves that the blame does not lie with him. This is reinforeced by the fact that, in the end, when the artist wishes to get revenge, he leaves out the Lord as a form of punishment (it is clearly stated:"A revenge (...) to leave him out of the scene forever".

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