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Study In Orange And White Analysis



Author: poem of Billy Collins Type: poem Views: 8

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I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,

but I was still surprised when I found the painting

of his mother at the Musée d'Orsay

among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes

of the French Impressionists.



And I was surprised to notice

after a few minutes of benign staring,

how that woman, stark in profile

and fixed forever in her chair,

began to resemble my own ancient mother

who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.



You can understand why he titled the painting

"Arrangement in Gray and Black"

instead of what everyone naturally calls it,

but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,

I imagined how it might have broken

the woman's heart to be demoted from mother

to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.



As the summer couples leaned into each other

along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats

full of spectators slid up and down the Seine

between the carved stone bridges

and their watery reflections,

I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.



It would be like Botticelli calling "The Birth of Venus"

"Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,"

or the other way around

like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color

"Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn."



Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe

where I now had come to rest,

it would be like painting something laughable,

like a chef turning on a spit

over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks

and calling it "Study in Orange and White."



But by that time, a waiter had appeared

with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,

and I sat there thinking of nothing

but the women and men passing by--

mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs--

and about myself,

a kind of composition in blue and khaki,

and, now that I had poured

some water into the glass, milky-green.






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