Category Archives: Bonnat, Léon

I never lost as much but twice

Job, 1880, Léon Bonnat
Background Image: Job, 1880, Léon Bonnat

The most interesting aspect of this poem is in the second stanza where the “Angels” reimburse her “store” but then in the end she is “poor once more”. What is it that the “Angels” replenished but that has still caused her to be poor? Perhaps it is faith itself.

Overall she is writing (and recounting her own experience) about the death of two people who she has seen buried “in the sod”. Her use of the word “sod” as the rhyme she uses with “God” reveals her anger in that we sense that she is connecting and accusing God as the one responsible for putting her loved ones in the ground. She reinforces this imagery with the “door of God” because, visually, the open grave does resemble a doorway, one that leads to the next life. This doorway image coupled with her image of the “beggar” is poignant because it illustrates her grief and her powerlessness to actually do anything other than beg to God.

What is unusual is how she has focused on economics in this poem. The previous poem, “I never told the buried gold” also dealt with money and faith in that Kidd’s hidden gold was used as the bargaining tool for his clemency, but, like the illusion of gold on the sea (as in her image of the sun glinting off the waves which has the appearance of gold pieces), it is an image of poverty and that money and faith do not mix. Kidd was betrayed by someone who was also fearing they would be harshly punished over piracy (which ties into the “Burglar” image here), and in this poem the economics of faith reveal her frustration with God who can give and take at will and so she is left standing as a “beggar” at God’s “door” hoping that he will offer her a few golden coins of faith or solace / peace.

In the second stanza she does reveal that the “Angels” have twice restored her by bringing into the world two new lives for her to cherish, but the stanza is divided with competing factions – on the one side are the “Angels” who restore, and on the other is “God” who takes away. She presents a complicated relationship with God who she accuses of being a “Burglar” and a “Banker” and she is clearly angry with him for acting as like a thief (just as Kidd was in the previous poem).

But she is also expressing the frustration of mortality in how life can be granted and then taken away and that we can only stand as beggars before God’s “door” hoping for a handout but never being in the position of a “banker” who makes the decisions. We are forever at the mercy of a higher power, and this is a complicated image because it does seem unfair that we must go begging outside in the rain as we stare at the rich man’s door who, on the other side, lives a mysterious life we can’t see when we are alive. And this emotion is never more profound than when standing at someone’s grave looking into that door shaped hole in the ground that is a portal to the ultimate mystery of life – death itself and what lay beyond.