Stanley Spencer, 1924–27
Cascading white roses! Their throne arbored shade’s
—-“curious scent” Spencer recalled
while painting. Those Seven Sisters perfume
——-my heart. God the Father’s broad: solid
————–as a Giotto
Madonna, his curve-plane’s not ours. His hand’s
in his son’s hair. Christ, free, in his white gown,
cradles three babies, one naked, in folds
of his motherly lap. (Quaternity:
——-Pleasure boats in far first dawn shine
His wife hops the turnstile—no Charon, no
boatman’s fee for her. (She pops up in three
more places.) Like as the hart longs for
the fountain brook, even so my heart longs.
——-Two lone nudes: Spencer. His buddy
leans athletically against two headstones.
——-The evergreens shield his privates.
———–Joy! The steam rose
from that body as he rose from swimming.
Consummately at ease, his sinewy
self’s propped as against the edge of a pool.
The painter, pinned between two headstones, feels,
——-in his nakedness, most exposed
of his whole company. A few women
——-in their heavenly gossip lean
————–against their stones.
One man seems to roll awake in an open
book (or boat), groom from a Chagall wedding.
Some still in the midst of rising from their graves
read their headstones in expectant wonder,
——-see what completion brings. Each round
stone glows. Africans stand at Christ’s right hand.
—-What is this singular wall
against which some squat, clutching tied bundles,
——-closest to Christ?
A long time traveling home. A long time.
The entwined black figures, least at rest, wait.
So laden with the final perfection
of all things, shouldering sod, moon-daisies,
——-drooping gerberas, two rise
diagonally. Up front, one in black
——-stands in a mound of floral crowns,
star lilies, marguerites, roses. The white
glare from her round headstone is dazzling.
All this so unlike the late self-portrait
he hid under his bed, having been led
——-to a marriage without desire,
his sex dangling dead meat by his naked
——-indifferent wife. She has no eyes for him.
———–So tell me then
what is it we must want to be alive?
Moses points to the stone tablets. See his blue
prayer shawl. Someone still sleeps, face down, her nest
fenced greenery. Three girls howl in their stone
——-sarcophagus that is chiseled
with the legs of a table, grown toddlers,
——-no play crib. A smaller sister,
shadowed, pulls their hair as if she were their
and their suffering might take her somewhere.
He grew ashamed of having painted them.
My heart parts at the diminutive girl
in her dress of star flowers between
two parting waves of small white roses.
I love them all. I love their maker.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.