There look to be two small monks in Campin’s mirror,
One no more than a boy. They seem
To have stopped in the doorway, maybe afraid
Of the first soft touch from the Virgin’s force field
Or just thinking the checkerboard tiles
(That the mirror makes into a wilderness)
Too slick and clean from the midwife’s broom
For people like them to cross. There is a buzz
In the door behind them, a greenness, a lack of air,
As if a box hedge had sprung up next to the manger
With small birds and flies sniffing its private parts.
Compare Bosch’s grey city, low on its promontory,
With maybe the trace of a crane or a cross –
Life in the wings to one side of the Word, thank God,
And Koninck’s, far off down the hill in Zeeland
Where two rivers meet under cloud. Windmills.
Cool air comes out of the Koninck like a taste
Or faint smell, and even the immense sky
Is not much to look at; which has to do
With weather in these parts being, like grey in Bosch,
Familiar, sad, unnoticeable, dangerous.
Think of Manet dining on Aesop’s boots …
And mad Pissarro putting five o’clock shadow on the cabbages,
His hand moving fast, like a cop in Mack Sennett,
As the coldness goes out of the light.
I don’t doubt he smiled in his beard at the finish – for there they are,
The great sycamores still half in the sun, purple and heavy and ghostly,
High on the ridge line,
Burning with bone-white dust.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.