A Familiar Public Place


We wrote poems about paintings last week. Inspired by W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” a poem about great paintings, including one by Brueghel, Millicent Caliban takes top prize for this salute to Edward Hopper:

To Edward Hopper, a New Master

(Automat, 1927)

with more than a nod to W. H. Auden

How well he understood the need to to be alone.
About our failed connections he was never wrong.
He knew one must have world enough and time:
Bright inner space to set against the dark outside,
A familiar public place to sit and think,
While sipping coffee good and strong
That issues from a plated dolphin’s mouth.
To stare into a cup that warms an ungloved hand,
To search within for reasons or for grace,
Or seek, when love and hope are gone, what may remain.
The private meditation, how it takes place while others may be sitting
At their separate marble tables, nursing coffee and their secret griefs unknown.
No fear they will intrude; they keep the city’s custom: each to his own.
One might observe the fetching yellow hat that looks so well at just that angle,
Might suppose she could be gay and sparkling if in a lively crowd,
Seductive like a luscious piece of fruit that lies there tempting in a crystal bowl,
As if she would let others even glimpse what lies beneath her coat of green,
As if she even knew herself all that is there as yet unseen,
Beyond the piercing emptiness and pain.

How sad we can no longer find our solace in an Automat like that.


Second place goes to Charise Hoge for this poem in the triolet form. Note the artful repetition of lines:


Soft Palette

The momentum of water lilies
is round, a resplendent haze
of emergent lucidities.
The momentum of water lilies,
repeating morning reveilles,
underscores Monet’s matinees.
The momentum of water lilies
is round, a resplendent haze.


I am grateful to all who took part.


For next week, may I suggest that players write the shortest possible poem of pith and wit under the title “The Judgment of Paris” with this elaborate epigraph, which I take from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology:

“Hera promised to make him Lord of the Europe and Asia; Athena, that he would lead the Trojans to victory against the Greeks and lay Greece in ruins; Aphrodite, that the fairest woman in all the world should be his. Paris, a weakling and something of a coward, chose the last. He gave Aphrodite the golden apple.”

Deadline: May 15, 6 P.M. Feel free to recruit friends to enter their poems. The competition among the three goddesses strikes me as an unusually compelling subject.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

David Lehman, a contributing editor of the Scholar, is a poet, critic, and the general editor of The Best American Poetry annual anthology and author of the book One Hundred Autobiographies. He currently writes our Talking Pictures column.


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