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


Friday, June 5, 2009

Musee Des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden

This poem, although not written by William Carlos Williams, fits so perfectly with this collection, I decided to add it. Since there is already a post showing the Fall of Icarus, I chose to display with it one of the other paintings alluded to by Auden, Christ Carrying the Cross

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Kermess

NOTE: This poem by William Carlos Williams was not in my book, Pictures From Brueghel and other Poems. I found it on another blog when I was searching for the pictures to put with the poetry. I had to add it. If anyone knows of other Williams poems about Brueghel's art, please let me know! To read a well written commentary on this poem go to Chris Couto's blog

The Kermess by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

The Dance
by William Carlos Williams

In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess.

Children's Games

Children's Games by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Children's Games
by William Carlos Williams


This is a schoolyard
with children

of all ages near a village
on a small stream
meandering by

where some boys
are swimming

or climbing a tree in leaf
is motion

elder women are looking
after the small

a play wedding a
nearby one leans

an empty hogshead


Little girls
whirling their skirts about
until they stand out flat

tops pinwheels
to run in the wind with
or a toy in 3 tiers to spin

with a piece
of twine to make it go
blindman's-buff follow the

leader stilts
high and low tipcat jacks
bowls hanging by the knees

standing on your head
run the gauntlet
a dozen on their backs

feet together kicking
through which a boy must pass
roll the hoop or a

made of bricks
some mason has abandoned


The desperate toys
of children

imagination equilibrium
and rocks
which are to be

and games to drag

the other down
to make use of

a swinging
with which

at random
to bash in the
heads about

Brueghel saw it all
and with his grim

humor faithfully

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Parable of the Blind

The Parable of the Blind
by William Carlos Williams

This horrible but superb painting
the parable of the blind
without a red

in the composition shows a group
of beggars leading
each other diagonally downward

across the canvas
from one side
to stumble finally into a bog

where the picture
and the composition ends back
of which no seeing man

is represented the unshaven
features of the des-
titute with their few

pitiful possessions in a basin
to wash in a peasant
cottage is seen and a church spire

the faces are raised
as toward the light
there is no detail extraneous

to the composition one
follows the others stick in
hand triumphant to disaster

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Wedding Dance in the Open Air

The Wedding Dance in the Open Air
by William Carlos Williams

Disciplined by the artist
to go round
& round

in holiday gear
a riotously gay rabble of
peasants and their

ample-bottomed doxies
the market square

featured by the women in
their starched
white headgear

they prance or go openly
toward the wood's

round and around in
rough shoes and
farm breeches

mouths agape
kicking up their heels

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Corn Harvest

The Corn Harvest
by William Carlos Williams

the painting is organized
about a young

reaper enjoying his
noonday rest

from his morning labors

in fact sleeping
on his back

the women
have brought him his lunch

a spot of wine
they gather gossiping
under a tree

whose shade
he does not share the

center of
their workday world

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


by William Carlos Williams

The living quality of
the man’s mind
stands out

and its covert assertions
for art, art, art!

that the Renaissance
tried to absorb

it remained a wheat field
over which the
wind played

men with scythes tumbling
the wheat in

the gleaners already busy
it was his own –

the patient horses no one
could take that
from him

Peasant Wedding

Peasant Wedding
by William Carlos Williams

Pour the wine bridegroom
where before you the
bride is enthroned her hair

loose at her temples a head
of ripe wheat is on
the wall beside her the

guests seated at long tables
the bagpipers are ready
there is a hound under

the table the bearded Mayor
is present women in their
starched headgear are

gabbing all but the bride
hands folded in her
lap is awkwardly silent simple

dishes are being served
clabber and what not
from a trestle made of an

unhinged barn door by two
helpers one in a red
coat a spoon in his hatband

The Adoration of the Kings

The Adoration of the Kings
by William Carlos Williams

From the Nativity
which I have already celebrated
the Babe in its Mother’s arms

the Wise Men in their stolen
and Joseph and the soldiery

with their incredulous faces
make a scene copied we’ll say

from the Italian masters
but with a difference
the mastery

of the painting
and the mind the resourceful mind
that governed the whole

the alert mind dissatisfied with
what it is asked to
and cannot do

accepted the story and painted
it in the brilliant
colors of the chronicler

the downcast eyes of the Virgin
as a work of art
for profound worship

The Hunters In the Snow

The Hunters in the Snow
by William Carlos Williams

The over-all picture is winter
icy mountains
in the background the return

from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in

their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix

between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire

the flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond

the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen

a winter-struck bush for his
foreground to
complete the picture

Landscape With the Fall of Icarus

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
by William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Self Portrait

These are two self portraits of Pieter Brueghel the elder, but neither of them seems to coincide with the image depicted in the poem. If anyone knows where I can get the right image, let me know!

Author's note: Thank you to Juan Antonio Montiel for directing me to this portrait (read the comments for further information about this NON self portrait)

Here is the poem:

Self Portrait
by William Carlos Williams

In a red winter hat blue
eyes smiling
just the head and shoulders

crowded on the canvas
arms folded one
big ear the right showing

the face slightly tilted
a heavy wool coat
with broad buttons

gathered at the neck reveals
a bulbous nose
but the eyes red-rimmed

from over-use he must have
driven them hard
but the delicate wrists

show him to have been a
man unused to
manual labor unshaved his

blond beard half trimmed
no time for any-
thing but his painting

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pictures from Brueghel

Okay, so William Carlos Williams had this awesome inspiration from looking at the paintings of a Dutch painter named Brueghel. I was inspired by his poetry and by Brueghel at a recent exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, so I am posting the paintings along with the poems for your viewing and reading pleasure.
Starting tomorrow because right now my rice is burning and I have sushi to make.