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Rembrandt's denial of Christ


Rembrandt Van Rijn

On certain nights the ghost of Rembrandt Van Rijn
walks the galleries where his masterworks are kept.

Rembrandt's ghost

Heavy for a ghost, he rouses himself again
To trawl the galleries of his dead successes.
Although he is spruced with a garland of rosemary,
His winding sheet still reeks of mortality and paint,
And he still keeps a weather-eye
For the shades of old creditors,
For, dogged interminably by life's misfortunes,
Rembrandt Van Rijn died beyond his means.

Anna the prophetess

Dear Anna.
Your eyes still pore over the wake
Of your reading hand,
And the words churn in your implacable face.
Beneath my carapace of paint
You still count the burnished wonders of your God,
Meticulously refresh the ancient book
With your dogged curiosities,
O daughter of Jerusalem,

The Jewish bride

Fine fellow, dressed to the frothy nines,
More gorgeous even
Than your pink young bride.
Consider, sir, the placement
Of your right, proprietary hand,
And note that your bride's left hand,
Although bonded with a diamond,
Contains a small perceptible, no.
This, I fear,
May prove a most difficult tenancy.

The denial of Christ

I watch again as your Master pauses,
And I, too, am caught in the moment
Of my own expectation.
Peter, I gave you such handsome possibilities,
Had your face shining like a saint,
And yet still,
On this third occasion,
You can only find a lie.

St Matthew and the Angel

Ah, the roseate glow of her Flemish hair
And her fingers that barely kiss
The shoulder of the Evangelist;
Yet now he must weigh into words
The whispers of the comely Seraphim,
Must weigh the press of her words,
Must weigh the scent of her fingers,
Must weigh into whispers
The fragrance of her words.

The night watch

Consider the grandest worthies
With pike and spike and Aquebus
And muskets primed,
Puffed up with lethal expectations,
Jostling their importance
With elbows drawn.
Some favour helmets
And whims of rakish armour;
All are in their Sunday's best
Armed with deadly lace, embroidery and sash
Just so.
And there shines my sweet Saskia
Armed only with a chicken;
The retort of the starting musket
Still shudders in her startled face.
Ah, the gentlemen are thinking to move
And are ready to commence,
So I, in courtesy, shall turn my back
So that their clockwork may begin.

The Syndics Guild

Yes Gentlemen,
I have reserved to you your protestant black
And your bibs as white as souls;
And I was careful to record
The weights and practised measures of your eyes;
But I did allow as well
The flesh of face and hand
To rush with life like tropic fruit;
And again, old Volckert Janz
Is rising to protest such presumption;
He knows I could not pay my bills:
See how I have left his hand in livid shadow,
How it claws the civic chair.

Jeremiah: who laments over the destruction of Jerusalem

In shade,
Zebediah, the king blinded by his people,
Kneads his fists against his blindness.
In fire,
The great weight of the temple masonry
Is fallen:
Loud is the doom of its catastrophe.
In light,
Jeremiah, prophet without honour,
Is poised amongst abandoned things,
Lost within the gravity of his dolorous rest.

The return of the Prodigal Son

And now, Rembrandt Van Rijn,
Threadbare, footsore,
The burial shoes rotted,
The soles adrift,
Stands as a prodigal:
A ghost dithering at his own stubborn threshold
Before a father who, in seeming blindness,
By touch can see;
A father who by touch can gather in,
Span the grief of forgiveness,
Restore breath. 

Poet's reading: Hear Grant Fraser's recitation of this poetry cycle here.

Grant FraserGrant Fraser is a lawyer, poet and filmmaker. His collection of poetry Some Conclusion in the Heart was published by Black Willow Press. His film Syllable to Sound was screened on ABC1. 

Topic tags: new australian poems, Grant Fraser, Rembrandt



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Existing comments

The relationship between painting and poetry is explored beautifully here. David Malouf has written a fine essay on this subject also -'Happiness in the Flesh' - which formed part of Quarterly Essay 41, The Happy Life: In Search of Contentment in the Modern World, published by Black Inc. in 2011. Rembrandt is one of the painters he wrote about.

Pam | 30 October 2012  

A delightful clarity ,directness and shapeliness of expression. A response to the paintings that searches out the strong, probing mind of the artist wrestling to expose the truth of the life he sees - and lives - in all its complexities. Thank you,Grant Fraser.

Joe Castley | 30 October 2012  

That was beautiful! Have been exploring Henri Nouwen's book 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' based on his reflections of Rembrandt's painting, at our Parish Spiritual Book Reading club. Your moving poem has added another dimension to my reflections. Thank you!!

bernie introna | 30 October 2012  

I loved the clarity and sensitivity of these poems. Rosemary Dobson is another Australian poet who has written on the connections between painting and poetry, and I have always enjoyed her work too.

Rodney Wetherell | 31 October 2012  

Magnificent. I'll make the time to fish out my Rembrandt book and read these poems beside copies of the relevant pictures.

Jim Jones | 31 October 2012  

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