The Poet Speaks of Art

Materials originally developed by Harry Rusche, English Department, Emory University, for the students of English 205, "Introduction to Poetry." Housed on this site because of difficulties accessing the Emory website.

Introductory Remarks by Harry Rusche on Poets and Paintings

Ever since the Roman poet Horace set down in his Ars Poetica (c. 13 BC) the dictum "ut pictura poesis"--"as is painting, so is poetry"--the two arts have been wedded in the critical mind. Poets and painters sometimes turn to one another for inspiration, and the dialogue has been mutually beneficial. Painters and illustrators have often been inspired by literature, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The critic Richard Altick says, for example, that between 1760 and 1900 there existed around 2,300 paintings based on Shakespeare's plays alone. These Shakespeare paintings are only one-fifth of the 11,500 paintings on subjects and scenes from literature--and we are talking only about paintings done in England during those years! Sheer numbers indicate the influence of authors on artists. Listed in the section on additional readings are several books that discuss the relationships between art and literature.

The road runs both ways, of course, and writers turn as well to paintings for their inspiration. In the small anthology of poems and paintings exhibited here, some interesting questions arise as we contemplate the relationship between the poem and the picture. Is the poem simply an objective verbal description of the work of art, or does the poet make conclusions about what the painting means? Could you reconstruct the painting from the poem without actually seeing it? Why does the poet dwell on some features of the the painting and ignore other aspects of the picture? Do you agree with the meaning the poet "reads" in the painting, or do you think the writer misreads it or warps the scene depicted to personal ends?

In some of the poems I regret that I could not duplicate the exact format of the original as in, for example, John Stone's "The Forest Fire," Mary Leader's "Girl at Sewing Machine" and several of Derek Mahon's poems. The ways in which lines appear on the page with indentations and spaces are important to poets and to their poems, but the limitations of Mosaic and NetScape prohibited an accurate reproduction of the text in some of the poetry. I apologize to the poets and urge my students to read the poetry in the original publications.

W. H. Auden, "Musee des Beaux Arts"
William Carlos Williams, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"

John Berryman, "Winter Landscape";
Walter de la Mare, "Brueghel's Winter";
Joseph Langland, "Hunters in the Snow: Brueghel";
William Carlos Williams, "The Hunters in the Snow"

Greg Delanty, "After Viewing 'The Bowling Match at Castlemary, Cloyne'(1847)"

Stephen Dobyns, "The Street"

Paul Engle, "Venus and the Lute Player"

U. A. Fanthorpe, "Not my Best Side"

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "[The Wounded Wilderness of Morris Graves]"

Donald Finkel, "The Great Wave: Hokusai"

Robert Foerster, "Breughel's Harvesters"
William Carlos Williams, "The Corn Harvest"

Allen Ginsberg, "Cezanne's Ports"

Edward Hirsch, "Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad"

Mary Leader, "Girl at Sewing Machine"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Cross of Snow"

Derek Mahon, "The Hunt by Night"

John Stone, "Early Sunday Morning"

Derek Mahon, "St. Eustace"

Derek Mahon, "Girls on the Bridge"

Derek Mahon, "Courtyards in Delft"

Edwin Markham, "The Man with the Hoe"

Lisel Mueller, "Paul Delvaux, The Village of the Mermaids

Frank O'Hara, "On Seeing Larry Rivers' 'Washington Crossing the Delaware' at the Museum of Modern Art"

Cathy Song, "Girl Powdering Her Neck"

John Stone, "Three for the Mona Lisa"

John Stone, "American Gothic"

Wislawa Szymborska, "Two Monkeys by Brueghel"

John Stone, "The Forest Fire"

May Swenson, "The Tall Figures of Giacometti"

W. D. Snodgrass, "Matisse: 'The Red Studio'"

Nancy Sullivan, "Number 1 by Jackson Pollack (1948)"

William Carlos Williams, "Peasant Wedding"

William Carlos Williams, "Haymaking"

William Carlos Williams, "The Wedding Dance in the Open Air"

William Carlos Williams, "The Parable of the Blind"

William Carlos Williams, "Children's Games"

William Carlos Williams, "Classic Scene"

William Carlos Williams, "The Dance"

Randall Jarrell, "The Bronze David of Donatello"
X. J. Kennedy, "Nude Descending a Staircase"
William Carlos Williams, "The Adoration of the Kings"
William Carlos Williams, "The Great Figure"

PBS "Voices and Visions" poetry video of "The Great Figure."

Click on each poet's name to see a video clip illustrating a poem by each author: Voices & Visions Spotlight

Additional Readings © Emory University

Abse, Dannie and Joan. Voices in the Gallery: Poems and Pictures. London: The Tate Gallery, 1986.

Altick, Richard D. Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985.

Cohen, Ralph. The Art of Discrimination: Thomson's "The Seasons" and the Language of Criticism. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1964.

Dijstra, Bram. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.

Frye, Roland M. Milton's Imagery and the Visual Arts: Icongraphic Tradition in the Epic Poems. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

McClatchy, J. D., editor. Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth-Century Poets. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Meisel, Martin. Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Oakley, Lucy. Unfaded Pageant: Edwin Austin Abbey's Shakespearean Subjects. New York: Columbia University, 1994.

Contact Emory University English Department Last Update of Original Site: May 26, 2000

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