- Jan Vermeer to his Model
(Girl with Pearl Earring, ca. 1665)
- All the light at my command is in this brush:
I bid a skyful crowd into a pip
and place, with painter’s hand and lover’s touch,
reflections in your eyes and on your lip.
- I pour the day like water from the side,
and caught between the woman and the girl,
as where a twilight and the sea collide,
I find these careful shadows for your pearl.
- I have no words for this, I cannot name
the strange sense of a flower in your face;
but I can paint the way it waits to bloom,
and stop time on this cusp of quiet grace.
We just watched Girl With A Pearl Earring, the movie based on Tracy Chevalier’s debut novel (which now I think I’d like to read). The movie is very pretty — too pretty at times for its less glamorous subject matter, but beautifully evocative of Golden Age Dutch art in the scenes where it matters. It builds a fine, slow suspense, and if the eponymous painting has ever held you in its famous spell you will enjoy the way the film treats it.
I dug this verse out and decided it wasn’t completely worthless — mainly for the third stanza. It’s not known who the model really was; when I wrote this I had in mind the most popular theory, that she was Vermeer’s eldest daughter, and my own idea (which Chevalier apparently shares) that the painting has too much of a sexual undertone for that to make complete sense. Let me know what you think.
I agree: the third stanza works well. I particularly liked the word “cusp”. Interesting, too, the metaphor of “a flower in your face”: for some reason, this puts me in mind of Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus, especially the shape and tilt of the head of both pictures.
Now that you’ve made me look at the word “flower” again, I realize that it’s a bud, not a flower, that waits to bloom. Ah well. It’s worth trying to write (and paint, and sing, and so on) just to increase one’s admiration for those who do it well, and one’s enjoyment of their creations.
That’s an interesting connection, with the Dali painting — I can see it when you say it, but it would never have occurred to me.