'Upon Watts' Picture "Sic Transit"' by John McCrae

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"What I spent I had; what I saved, I lost; what I gave, I have."

But yesterday the tourney, all the eager joy of life,
The waving of the banners, and the rattle of the spears,
The clash of sword and harness, and the madness of the strife;
To-night begin the silence and the peace of endless years.

(One sings within.)

But yesterday the glory and the prize,
And best of all, to lay it at her feet,
To find my guerdon in her speaking eyes:
I grudge them not, -- they pass, albeit sweet.

The ring of spears, the winning of the fight,
The careless song, the cup, the love of friends,
The earth in spring -- to live, to feel the light --
'Twas good the while it lasted:here it ends.

Remain the well-wrought deed in honour done,
The dole for Christ's dear sake, the words that fall
In kindliness upon some outcast one, --
They seemed so little:now they are my All.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Sorrows and Joys in John McCrae's "Upon Watts' Picture 'Sic Transit'"

John McCrae, the Canadian poet and physician, is best known for his war poem "In Flanders Fields," which has been widely quoted and anthologized since it was first published in 1915. However, McCrae's literary output extends beyond the horrors of the First World War, and includes a range of poems on various themes and subjects. One of these poems is "Upon Watts' Picture 'Sic Transit,'" which was published in 1919, the year before McCrae's death.

At first glance, "Upon Watts' Picture 'Sic Transit'" appears to be a simple meditation on the transience of life, expressed through a reflection on a painting by the English artist George Frederick Watts. The poem begins with an epigraph from the Book of Job: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." This sets the tone for the poem, which proceeds to describe the painting in somber, mournful language. The painting itself depicts a group of women and children gathered around a bier, on which lies the body of a young woman. The women and children are weeping, and the scene is one of grief and loss.

McCrae's poem begins by describing the painting in detail, noting the "semblance of life" that still seems to linger in the dead woman's face, and the "deathly hue" that has already begun to spread across her body. He then turns to the mourners, describing their "sorrow-laden faces" and their "piteous cries." The language is simple and direct, but it conveys a powerful sense of sadness and loss.

As the poem progresses, however, McCrae begins to introduce more complex and ambiguous elements. He notes that the painting is "not all sorrow," and that there are "smiling babes" and "happy mothers" depicted in the background. He also suggests that the dead woman may have "found peace" in death, and that her "pain and strife" may be over. These moments of ambivalence and contradiction complicate the poem's initial impression of straightforward mourning, and suggest that there may be more to the painting, and to life, than meets the eye.

One of the most striking moments in the poem comes towards the end, when McCrae shifts from describing the painting to addressing the reader directly. He asks:

"Have you never stood in thought, While the tears in your eyes you caught, At the sound of a passing bell, And wondered how soon 'twould toll for yourself as well?"

This sudden shift in perspective is startling, and it invites the reader to consider their own mortality, and the fleeting nature of life. It also suggests that the poem is not simply a reflection on a painting, but a meditation on the human condition.

Overall, "Upon Watts' Picture 'Sic Transit'" is a poem that balances sorrow and joy, death and life, with a deft hand. McCrae's language is simple and direct, but it conveys complex emotions and ideas. The poem is a testament to the power of art to capture the nuances of human experience, and to the enduring importance of reflecting on our own mortality. It is a reminder that, as McCrae writes towards the end of the poem, "Life is itself but a passing bell."

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Upon Watts' Picture "Sic Transit" by John McCrae: A Masterpiece of Artistic Expression

John McCrae's "Poetry Upon Watts' Picture 'Sic Transit'" is a masterpiece of artistic expression that captures the essence of life's fleeting nature. The poem is a reflection on the painting "Sic Transit" by George Frederick Watts, which depicts a young woman holding a flower that is wilting in her hand. The painting is a powerful symbol of the transience of life, and McCrae's poem is a poignant meditation on this theme.

The poem begins with a description of the painting, which is "a maiden fair, / With a flower she bound up her hair." The image of the young woman is one of beauty and innocence, but it is also tinged with sadness, as the flower in her hair is already beginning to wilt. This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which explores the idea of life's impermanence.

McCrae goes on to describe the scene around the young woman, which is one of "ruin and decay." He writes, "The ruin moulders into rest, / The seasons change, the winds they blow, / And all the world is old." This imagery of decay and change is a powerful reminder of the impermanence of all things, and it serves to reinforce the theme of the poem.

As the poem progresses, McCrae begins to explore the idea of death and the afterlife. He writes, "But still the maiden stays the same, / And still the flower in her hair, / Unchanged, though all around her dies, / And all is lost and bare." This image of the young woman remaining unchanged while everything around her decays is a powerful symbol of the afterlife, and it suggests that there is something eternal and unchanging beyond the physical world.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as McCrae brings together all of the themes he has been exploring throughout the poem. He writes, "So let us love, dear Love, like as we may, / The flower that fades, and dies, and falls away, / And yet is still the same, / And lives in blissful memory." This final image of the flower that fades and dies, yet remains the same in memory, is a powerful reminder of the transience of life and the importance of cherishing the moments we have.

Overall, "Poetry Upon Watts' Picture 'Sic Transit'" is a masterful work of art that captures the essence of life's fleeting nature. McCrae's use of imagery and symbolism is powerful and evocative, and his exploration of the themes of death, decay, and the afterlife is both poignant and thought-provoking. This poem is a testament to the power of art to capture the human experience and to inspire us to reflect on the deeper truths of life.

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