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Winter Landscape -- John Berryman

This week's theme: Brueghel, or, A Poetic Curiosity:
(Poem #482) Winter Landscape
 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
Anustup Datta () wrote in with a most interesting discovery:
a set of four poems all based on the same painting, Pieter Brueghel's 'Hunters
in the Snow'. (You can see the painting itself at
[broken link] For today's poem I'll just include
Anustup's own commentary; from tomorrow onwards I'll be adding my own two (or
more) bits.


[Anustup writes]

This exercise was prompted by a sense of curiosity to compare two arts - the
visual and the poetic. Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Or does the
use of language, an evocative medium that conjures up far more than it
physically says, actually add extra dimensions of meaning to the subject? You be
the judge.

I have chosen one of my favourite paintings - Pieter Brueghel's celebrated
'Hunters in the Snow'. It is a very evocative painting, as anyone who has seen
Andrei Tarkovsky's classic film 'The Sacrifice' would know: this painting plays
a central role in it. Brueghel was known for his silky and delicate landscapes -
his nickname was 'Velvet', as distinguished from his brother [1] Jan, who was
dubbed 'Hell'.

My other reason for choosing Brueghel is his popularity among poets - many of
his works have had poetry written on them. The most celebrated is W. H. Auden's
'Musee des Beaux Arts' (Minstrels Poem #68), on Brueghel's 'The Fall of Icarus'.
William Carlos Williams has also written a well-known poem on the same painting


[1] Actually, 'Hunters in the Snow' is by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the father
of Jan and Pieter Brueghel the Younger - t.

[2] 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus', one of several Williams poems based on
Brueghel paintings - see his 'Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems', New
Directions, 1962 - t.

[EB on Brueghel]

" ... with the possible exception of a drawing of a mountain valley by Leonardo
da Vinci, the landscapes resulting from [Brueghel's journey to Italy] are almost
without parallel in European art for their rendering of the overpowering
grandeur of the high mountains. Very few of the drawings were done on the spot,
and several were done after Brueghel's return, at an unknown date, to Antwerp.
The vast majority are free compositions, combinations of motifs sketched on the
journey through the Alps...

... the double interest in landscape and in subjects requiring the
representation of human figures also informed, often jointly, the paintings that
Brueghel produced in increasing number after his return from Italy. All of his
paintings, even those in which the landscape appears as the dominant feature,
have some narrative content. Conversely, in those that are primarily narrative,
the landscape setting often carries part of the meaning.

... ['Hunters in the Snow' features] a combined monumentalization and extreme
simplification of figures... and another characteristic of Brueghel's art, an
obsessive interest in rendering movement."

        -- Encylopaedia Brittanica

19 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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