Saturday, 31 December 2011

Pictures at an Exhibition: Vermeer in Cambridge

So Johan or Johannes or Joannis...
Let us settle for Jan ~
You were the toast
of the Dutch Golden Age,
Despite a short life
From 1632 to 1675
Or thereabouts;
You struggled to support
Eleven children ~
Enough for a cricket team;
Your legacy is thirty-
Two oil paintings on canvas
And two more on wood;
They are scattered across
Europe and America
But you can see four
Of them at the
Fitzwilliam Museum
In Cambridge
Until the 12th of January


Today I saw your pictures
In the intimate
Windowless gallery
But not the Girl with
The Pearl Earring;
Instead there were other meisjes,
Or perhaps the same one
Making lace and
Having keyboard lessons
At your house in Delft;
The Lacemaker was quite small
On loan from the Louvre
In a glowing walnut frame
She is busy with her bobbins
And does not have time
To make movies with
Menheer Firth;
She is smiling shyly
Hoping that her music
Master will notice the lace
Tippet she is finishing;
Soon she will lay aside
The satin cushion
Stretch her narrow shoulders
And look out
Of the casement window
At the bustle of
Delft's quayside;
Glimpsing her
Debonair Italian
Music master
Walking past the
Oude Kerk,
Munching a
Maatjes herring,
She hopes that
He will not leave
Greasy marks on
Her virginals


Your quartet
Rubs shoulders
With twenty seven
Paintings of women
By your confrères
Maes, de Hooch,
Pieter Ter Borch,
Van Hoogstraten
Jan Steen and
Jacobus Vrel

Here we see
A Dutch Daughter
Watching Mama
Peel parsnips
In quiet kitchen bliss
Or appearing like
A pale ghost at
Oma's window
To her surprise and


A few dutiful
Cambridge children
Follow their parents
Through the exhibition
Sporting stylish
Warm winter woollies
Wishing they were
Back at home
With their new toys;
Maybe their Mums
Still peel parsnips
Delivered in the
Weekly organic
Veg box
To Newnham Croft
Or the Kite
But I am confident
That lacemaking
Does not fill the
Morning hours of
Their winsome
Elder sisters
Unless perhaps
In some windy
Fenland farmstead
In the dark moistness
Beyond Manea
And Aldreth
Our own nether land
This Dutch nimbleness


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