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The Old And The New Masters Analysis

Author: poem of Randall Jarrell Type: poem Views: 14

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About suffering, about adoration, the old masters

Disagree. When someone suffers, no one else eats

Or walks or opens the window--no one breathes

As the sufferers watch the sufferer.

In St. Sebastian Mourned by St. Irene

The flame of one torch is the only light.

All the eyes except the maidservant's (she weeps

And covers them with a cloth) are fixed on the shaft

Set in his chest like a column; St. Irene's

Hands are spread in the gesture of the Madonna,

Revealing, accepting, what she does not understand.

Her hands say: "Lo! Behold!"

Beside her a monk's hooded head is bowed, his hands

Are put together in the work of mourning.

It is as if they were still looking at the lance

Piercing the side of Christ, nailed on his cross.

The same nails pierce all their hands and feet, the same

Thin blood, mixed with water, trickles from their sides.

The taste of vinegar is on every tongue

That gasps, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

They watch, they are, the one thing in the world.

So, earlier, everything is pointed

In van der Goes' Nativity, toward the naked

Shining baby, like the needle of a compass.

The different orders and sizes of the world:

The angels like Little People, perched in the rafters

Or hovering in mid-air like hummingbirds;

The shepherds, so big and crude, so plainly adoring;

The medium-sized donor, his little family,

And their big patron saints; the Virgin who kneels

Before her child in worship; the Magi out in the hills

With their camels--they ask directions, and have pointed out

By a man kneeling, the true way; the ox

And the donkey, two heads in the manger

So much greater than a human head, who also adore;

Even the offerings, a sheaf of wheat,

A jar and a glass of flowers, are absolutely still

In natural concentration, as they take their part

In the salvation of the natural world.

The time of the world concentrates

On this one instant: far off in the rocks

You can see Mary and Joseph and their donkey

Coming to Bethlehem; on the grassy hillside

Where their flocks are grazing, the shepherds gesticulate

In wonder at the star; and so many hundreds

Of years in the future, the donor, his wife,

And their children are kneeling, looking: everything

That was or will be in the world is fixed

On its small, helpless, human center.

After a while the masters show the crucifixion

In one corner of the canvas: the men come to see

What is important, see that it is not important.

The new masters paint a subject as they please,

And Veronese is prosecuted by the Inquisition

For the dogs playing at the feet of Christ,

The earth is a planet among galaxies.

Later Christ disappears, the dogs disappear: in abstract

Understanding, without adoration, the last master puts

Colors on canvas, a picture of the universe

In which a bright spot somewhere in the corner

Is the small radioactive planet men called Earth.


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