A Rembrandt Painting & The Old Woman

I thought this poem is very thought-provoking. I’m not sure what the last line mean exactly, but I am left with a sense of sadness after reading the poem.

In ethics class so many years ago,
our teacher asked this question every fall;
if there were a fire in a museum,
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting,
or an old woman who hadn’t many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs,
caring little for pictures or old age,
we’d opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.

This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter – the browns of earth,
though earth’s most radiant elements burn,
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond saving by children.



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sassywho
    Apr 19, 2007 @ 06:26:17

    what a beautiful poem! my interpretation, wisdom and beauty are not lost on the young, however it is a discovery for them as opposed to a creation of their own. with each passing season the wisdom and burn gives them the canvas to create their own beauty, thus nothing to save as they now contribute to the cycle of art and life.

    sulz: i know! 😉 that’s an interesting response to the poem.


  2. sassywho
    Apr 19, 2007 @ 08:46:42

    I gave more thought to it as I was making dinner. Children are not capable of knowing the pain of a love lost, not capable of knowing the disappointment of a dream unfulfilled, not capable of knowing the hurt of rejection. That in itself is beautiful, and they can notice and recognize art but not understand what ache would cause such beauty, which is the double-edge sword of wisdom and art. It takes wisdom(experiences) to understand pain, and optimism(youth) to find it beautiful.

    (and the children that are aware of that kind of angst, they are usually sad and prodigies at the same time)

    btw, I love your blog.

    sulz: that’s quite profound of you. even though i enjoyed learning literature in class, i’m just not naturally intuitive in interpreting what’s in between the lines.

    thank you. 🙂 it’s something i enjoy doing more when i have readers like you.


  3. sassywho
    Apr 20, 2007 @ 04:09:22

    sulz, do you mind if i link this up at my blog?

    nylusmilk: you mean at your blogroll? not at all – i’ve added yours too. 🙂 nice red and yellow flower for you.


  4. sassywho
    Apr 20, 2007 @ 07:44:12

    I noticed that thank you. your blog should be under my “book porn” title. i actually wanted to do a post on it.

    nylusmilk: you’re welcome. but i am, i thought? and i see you already have; thanks for the really nice plug!


  5. sassywho
    Apr 21, 2007 @ 11:48:39

    you clearly are an intelligent woman, and I’m all for highlighting that. books and poetry are my second loves. and please feel free to let me know if the title “book pronn” is uncomfortable with you. I used to be in real estate so “real estate pron” is a tag I use often too.

    nylusmilk: thank you for that lovely compliment. 🙂 hey, you call it book porn, i call it biblioteca erotica. 😉


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