Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Breugel Nativity

An earlier work by Williams on Brueghel's "Adoration of the Kings" originally published in The Nation, May 31, 1958 and later used as part of "Paterson, Vol. 4"
Thank you to Lynda for bringing this one to my attention!

“A Brueghel Nativity.”
by William Carlos Williams

Peter Brueghel, the elder, painted

a Nativity, painted a Baby

new born!

among the words.

Armed men.

savagely armed men

armed with


halberds and swords

whispering men with averted faces,

get to the heart

of the matter

as they talked to the pot bellied

greybeard (center)

the butt of their comments,

looking askance, showing their

amazement at the scene,

features like the more stupid

German soldiers of the late


—but the Baby (as from an

illustrated catalogue

in colors) lies naked on his Mother's


—it is a scene, authentic

enough, to be witnessed frequently

among the poor (I salute

the man Brueghel who painted

what he saw—

many times no doubt

among his own kids but not of course

in this setting)

The crowned and mitred heads

of the three men, one of them black,

who had come, obviously from afar


by the rich robes

they had on—offered

to propitiate their gods

Their hands were loaded with gifts

—they had eyes for visions

in those days—and saw,

saw with their proper eyes,

these things

to the envy of the vulgar soldiery

He painted

the bustle of the scene,

the unkempt straggling

hair of the old man in the

middle, his sagging lips

— —incredulous

that there was so much fuss

about such a simple thing as a baby

born to an old man

out of a girl and a pretty girl

at that

But the gifts! (works of art,

where could they have picked

them up or more properly

have stolen them?)

—how else to honor

an old man or a woman?

—the soldiers' ragged clothes,

mouths open,

their knees and feet

broken from thirty years of

war, hard campaigns, their mouths

watering for the feast which

had been provided

Peter Brueghel the artist saw it

from the two sides: the

imagination must be served—

and he served