Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rest of the Reapers, Pieter Brueghel, the younger 


No sound beyond the dropping of the leaves
Or shushing in the treetops of the stirring
In the air and periodic whirring
Soft of wings and bundling of sheaves ––

Every now and then a bird may call
Looking for –– or longing for –– his mate;
Escaping still the hunter’s dinner plate.
Scythes swish steadily as grain grown tall

Submits to delicate compelling force.
Workers silently bent to their task
Over whom hot sunshine spills its rays

Reap swiftly knowing pain could come, of course.
Later, in the afterglow they’ll bask
Dreaming –– foolishly –– of better days.

~ FreeThinke


  1. Replies
    1. You must thank Pieter Brueghel, the younger. He practically wrote the sonnet, himself, with very little input from me.

      Rest of the Reapers and other Brueghel paintings have impressed me since I first saw some of them in childhood.

  2. A wonderfully old world man you are, FreeThinke.


    1. That I am, Jersey, and I'll take your words as a great compliment. I'm not quite a Luddite, but I see very clearly that much ugliness, clamor, din, toxic pollution, and a unique, new form of cruel exploitation (of those fated to slave away in "England's Dark Satanic Mills") came into the world with the advent of The Machine Age.

      For each ecstatic instant
      We must an Anguish pay ––
      In keen and quivering ratio
      To the Ecstasy.

      For each beloved Hour ––
      Sharp pittances of Years ––
      Bitter, contested Farthings ––
      And Coffers heaped with Tears.

      ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

      Those words might well apply to nearly every facet of the Human Condition. No matter how hard we try, we can never escape from the shadows our presence casts.

    2. The machines really did change the world, and they haven't made it an prettier.


  3. Scythes swish steadily

    Hearing the scythes sweep across the stalks in those words, FT.

    1. Yes. I tried to capture in words an evocation of the sounds Brueghel's picture suggests the reapers must be hearing in that bucolic setting. To my modern, traumatized ears the aural images seem idyllic.

      My point, of course, in writing the sonnet on the acrostic Noise Pollution was to suggest that those field hands in all likelihood never knew how well off they really were, and that much of what-we-like-to-call "Progress" has done very little to fulfill human longings and alleviate suffering. It has in fact expanded and exacerbated it in many ways some of which most of us remain unaware even though the adverse effects have been universal.

  4. Musee Des Beaux Arts
    by W.H. Auden

    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.

    1. Cryptic though he may be at times I love Auden. Thank you for that.

      Do you see any sort of "object lesson" we might draw from the tale of Icarus? I fancy it an early version of the Tower of Babel, myself. Possibly even the Titanic much later on.

    2. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus>

      According to Brueghel
      when Icarus fell
      it was spring

      a farmer was ploughing
      his field
      the whole pageantry

      of the year was
      awake tingling
      with itself

      sweating in the sun
      that melted
      the wings' wax

      off the coast
      there was

      a splash quite unnoticed
      this was
      Icarus drowning

      ~ William Carlos Williams


      _______ Lines on Brueghel’s Icarus ______

      The ploughman ploughs, the fisherman dreams of fish;
Aloft, the sailor, through a world of ropes
Guides tangled meditations, feverish
With memories of girls forsaken, hopes
Of brief reunions, new discoveries,
Past rum consumed, rum promised, rum potential.
Sheep crop the grass, lift up their heads and gaze
Into a sheepish present: the essential,
Illimitable juiciness of things,
      Greens, yellows, browns are what they see.
Churlish and slow, the shepherd, hearing wings —
Perhaps an eagle’s–gapes uncertainly;

      Too late. The worst has happened: lost to man,

      The angel, Icarus, for ever failed,
Fallen with melted wings when, near the sun
He scorned the ordering planet, which prevailed
And, jeering, now slinks off, to rise once more.

      But he–his damaged purpose drags him down —

      Too far from his half-brothers on the shore,
Hardly conceivable, is left to drown.

      ~ Michael Hamburger (1924-2007)

  5. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a painting in oil on canvas (28.9 in × 44.1 in) long thought to be by Pieter Bruegel.

    However, following technical examinations in 1996 that attribution is regarded as very doubtful, and the painting is now usually regarded as a good early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel's original, perhaps painted in the 1560s, although recent technical research has re-opened that question too.

    Largely derived from Ovid, the painting is described in W. H. Auden's famous poem Musée des Beaux-Arts, named after the museum in which the painting is housed in Brussels, and became the subject of a poem of the same name by William Carlos Williams, as well as Lines on Bruegel's "Icarus" by Michael Hamburger. WIKI

  6. Interesting that Auden appears to have misspelled Brueghel's name. It may be spelt minus the h, which in some circles seems to be preferred, but I've never seen it represented as BREUGHEL before.

    A typo? A misprint? An editorial oddity? Intentional on Auden's part? A BRITISH spelling? I must check other editions and see if "BREUGHEL" runs that way through all.

    1. OKAY! One of those oddities that's correct either way. Apparently, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, signed his name Breughel after the year 1616. Before it had been Pieter Brueghel.

      Of course, as all should know, spelling was not standardized at this time. In England it was looked upon as a mark of extreme cleverness and erudition to spell words in common use in as many different ways as one could imagine.

      How times change!

  7. Your poem is beautiful, FT. That picture obviously made a great impression on you. You captured the feeling of peace very well.

    Marion Brambler



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