Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Howard Nemorov

I have to confess that just about everything I know about Howard Nemerov comes from Wikipedia. I stumbled across this poem a few months ago on the Inward Bound poetry blog and found myself returning to it until I finally succumbed to its charms by pinning it to my cubicle wall at work.

Much like the work of the artist under discussion, I find this poem to be soothing and clarifying. I suppose it’s the next best thing to having a Vermeer on the wall – or perhaps, for a language person, an even better thing.

I often find the visual arts overwhelming because I try to “read” an entire canvas (or sculpture, etc.) all at once and find myself agitated by sensory overload. This is probably a maladaptive approach, but I don’t seem to be able to shake it. Poems, on the other hand, must be taken bit by bit, and I find it much easier to lose myself in their meanderings.

Taking what is, and seeing it as it is,
Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures,
Keeping it simple; being in love with light
And the marvelous things that light is able to do,
How beautiful a modesty which is
Seductive extremely, the care for daily things.

At one for once with sunlight falling through
A leaded window, the holy mathematic
Plays out the cat's cradle of relation
Endlessly; even the inexorable
Domesticates itself and becomes charm.

If I could say to you, and make it stick,
A girl in a red hat, a woman in blue
Reading a letter, a lady weighing gold . . .
If I could say this to you so you saw,
And knew, and agreed that this was how it was
In a lost city across the sea of years,
I think we should be for one moment happy
In the great reckoning of those little rooms
Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light,
Or standing invisible on the shore opposed,
Watching the water in the foreground dream
Reflectively, taking a view of Delft
As it was, under a wide and darkening sky.

Howard Nemerov on Wikipedia

Howard Nemerov on Poets.org


  1. "In a lost city across the sea of years..." how beautiful to walk with Vermeer and his light for a time with Mr Nemerov. Many thanks.

  2. I'm glad you appreciate it. It's the following two lines that always make me sigh.