Competition

Picture this

30 November 2013

9:00 AM

30 November 2013

9:00 AM

In Competition 2825 you were invited to supply a poem for a well-known painting of your choice.

The poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the inspiration behind this challenge. His sonnet ‘Found’ was written in 1881 as a companion to an unfinished oil painting of the same title on the theme of prostitution, which is now in the Delaware Museum.


Rossetti’s Pre-Raphaelite brethren featured strongly in the entry. Melanie Branton’s companion piece to ‘Ophelia’, a lament from a long-suffering Lizzie Siddal, made me smile.

Rob Stuart, Sylvia Fairley, Adrian Fry, Philip Wilson and Chris O’Carroll were also strong contenders but narrowly missed joining the prizewinners below, who take £25 each. The bonus fiver is Alan Millard’s.

Aye, clearly there’s a story here,
A story here,
Less tranquil than it might appear
Beneath that darkening sky:
The haywain stalls, the lad says naught
But points towards a lass distraught
Upon the bank — a moment fraught
With more than meets the eye.
 
Midstream the master, roughly clad,
Aye, roughly clad,
Stands staring at the pointing lad,
The horse waits, wain in tow;
A dog looks on. What came before,
Or afterwards might lie in store
For master, lad or lass is more
Than we shall ever know.
Alan Millard/Constable’s ‘The Haywain’
 
It’s raining men in bowler hats. Or is it?
They might be leaving, floating up, instead
Of dropping in politely for a visit.
They might be dangling from some unseen
thread.
The houses are stone-colour with red tiles,
Blank as a barracks, windows uniform.
The sky is faded blue. The painting style’s
So flat and automatic that the swarm
Of cloned and airborne puppets are just that,
 
Ciphers as inexpressive as goose eggs
Beneath the formal overcoat and hat,
Their motives blank as their black-trousered
legs.
Where are the fabled diamonds in all this?
Nowhere. The painter’s a blagueur futé,
Whose teasing title takes the holy piss
Out of mimesis. Way to go, René.
Basil Ransome-Davies/Magritte’s ‘Golconda’
 
His face is set against encircling dark,
A pale light falling simply on his brow;
Across his nose and cheeks skin blotches mark
Life passed yet held suspended there — and
now.
We stand arm’s length away, much where he
stood
To touch the final detail with his brush,
And see, as he would then have thought we
should,
The sense of life that death could never crush.
His deep reflective gaze turns back our own
And makes a mirror that we’re dared to face:
For in his living image we are shown
That in the turn of time we take his place.
This portrait of itself, in fine, lays bare
A self not his alone but one we share.
W.J. Webster/Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait at the Age of 63’
 
Since Leonardo chose to place
That smile on Mona Lisa’s face,
Five centuries of speculation
Have yielded no elucidation.
Her lips are closed: do they conceal
Teeth quite devoid of sex appeal?
Abandon such conjectures; I’ll
Explain what lies behind her smile.
You see the same thing when a wife
Watches the Mere Male of her life
Attempt, and feebly fail, to do
Some small task she is able to
Dispatch herself with practised ease.
Preoccupied, he rarely sees
The look that’s beamed in his direction:
Impatience tempered with affection.
Ray Kelley
 
At first the whole commission made me frown
(Though from the Pope). I knew it would feel
odd
Painting forty feet up and upside down,
And having to include a full-length God.
 
Adam gave me no trouble — lithe and brown
(I’m happy with the naked male bod!)
But the Almighty? From the Book he’s known
As, frankly, an irascible old sod.
 
But with a fresco base, clean and pristine
(And other patrons never pay as much)
It took a month or so to get it done —
I think it brightened up the old Sistine.
Pity I couldn’t make their fingers touch!
Still, in a hundred years it will be gone.
Brian Murdoch
 
That worn and lived-in face of no great beauty:
The fleshy chin, the rather bulbous nose,
The disregard for prim sartorial duty,
The patchy beard, the unassuming pose,
The mottled cheeks, the mouth that’s almost
pursed,
The forehead creased by time’s unkind
affliction,
The brush and palette’s vivid colour-burst
Caught in the moment of their own depiction,
The glance devoid of malice or pretension,
The weary eyes, oblivious to fashion —
But in those eyes, what depths of
comprehension,
Of grief endured, of sorrow and compassion,
That gentle gaze that understands and sees all —
Rembrandt van Rijn: Self-portrait at an easel.
Brian Allgar

No. 2828: that was the year that was

You are invited to provide a retrospective commentary, in verse, on 2013. Please email entries (16 lines maximum) to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 9 December. Please note the earlier-than-usual deadline, which is because of our seasonal production schedule.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


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