Daily Archives: August 3, 2019

Artists wrestled here!

The Human Condition, 1933, René Magritte
Background Image: The Human Condition, 1933, René Magritte

This poem makes me think of Jean Baudrillard’s work on the simulacrum in art, specifically the third stage (of his proposed four stages) in which the sign / work of art suggests there is no there there, no actual reality underpinning the work. In this poem Emily wrestles with creating something that can only lay in “Repose”, like a corpse on the “Easel”.

It’s interesting how many times Emily seems to intuit the modern and post modern movements in her poetry. Many of her poems deal with the process of writing, such as “Have you got a Brook in your little heart” which could be read as her describing the physical process of writing a poem and where inspiration might be coming from. She makes a direct connection between the natural world and art as if they are one in the same in that the words on the page literally become the brook flowing through the poem which itself is the well-spring of inspiration (as well as a metaphor for the ink she writes with) for the poem we are reading.

In this poem, however, she is more skeptical of the process. Instead of inspiration flowing freely, here “Artists wrestled” with the act of creation. And this “here” is quite literal in that she is referring to the paper the poem is written on – which she again refers to as the “Easel” – and she seems to be demanding that the poem make itself known by ending all but one of the lines with an exclamation as if she is trying to coerce the images into a reality beyond the confines of the page / “Easel”. As if the efforts of the best artist, the “Student of the Year” can somehow transcend the limitations of art and create creation through their efforts.

And it’s her use of the word “Easel” which made me think of postmodernism because she is not writing a poem about a “Rose” on a background of “Cashmere”, rather she is writing a poem about a painting that is trying to capture some beautiful element of nature. We are multiple levels removed from nature in that if we consider a real “rose”, and then we consider a painting of a real “rose”, and finally in this poem we consider a poem about a painting about a real “rose”, we’re so far removed from the rose that it no longer resembles a rose anymore, it is just a word containing the letters “r-o-s-e”. We should even consider the fact that the final line of the poem, “Repose” shares a rhyme only with the word “rose” as if it is imitating the rose, a ‘re-rose’, a simulation of a rose, but not the rose itself.

Thus, unlike “Have you got a Brook in your little heart” in which the act of creation begins with nature and then flows into the artist and out through the ink on the page, this process does not go the other way around. The artist cannot inspire nature, they can only be inspired by it. The one benefit to this relationship however is that the artist is able to give a vocabulary to nature who is otherwise indifferent to whomever is observing it and thus allows the rest of us to have the language to appreciate nature. A rose may be beautiful, but a poem about a beautiful rose allows us to actually articulate that beauty, though it is no replacement for the real thing, the poem only lies in “Repose” upon the “Easel”.