Friday, 18 December 2009

They went without names

A Zbigniew Herbert poem I came across at Anecdotal Evidence:
“The Old Masters
went without names

“their signature
was the white fingers of the Madonna

“or pink towers
di città sul mare

“also scenes from the life
della Beata Umiltà

“they dissolved
in sogno

“they found shelter
under the eyelids of angels
behind hills of clouds
in the thick grass of paradise

“they drowned without a trace
in golden firmaments
with no cry of fright
or call to be remembered

“the surfaces of their paintings
are smooth as a mirror
they aren’t mirrors for us
they are mirrors for the chosen

“I call on you Old Masters
in hard moments of doubt

“make the serpent’s scales of pride
fall from me

“let me be deaf
to the temptation of fame

“I call upon you Old Masters

“the Painter of the Rain of Manna
the Painter of Embroidered Trees
the Painter of the Visitation
the Painter of the Sacred Blood”

As Kurp says:
The finals stanzas read like a prayer to the saints of art, anonymous in the beauty and grace of their work.

It's probably a prayer that could be said with benefit by more people what with our current obsession with self-assertion, whether in the form of celebrity or fame, or dignified through the use of words such as renown or legacy. I'm afraid we have to return to the sorry comparison of modest man with modern man. The intervention of these Painters is proving sorely inadequate in our age where, despite forgetting much, we all want to be remembered. (And writing this blog puts me on which side of the line?)

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