National Poetry Month 2013, Bonus Week: My Poem “Titian’s Metamorphosis”
May 3, 2013
I hope you have enjoyed National Poetry Month for 2013 as much as I have. As always, I end with a “bonus poem,” one of my own that I am delighted to share with you.
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I’ve written about ekphrastic poetry before, the art of writing poetry about or inspired by other works of art.
Last September, Samantha and I were in London and went to the National Gallery’s “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” show.
The multi-arts show brought together a group of specially commissioned works responding to three of Titian’s paintings – “Diana and Actaeon,” “The Death of Actaeon,” and the recently acquired “Diana and Callisto” – all of which depict stories from Ovid’s epic poem “Metamorphoses.”
The three paintings at the heart of the exhibition had not been seen together since the 18th century.
I was inspired to write my own poems in response to the show, one of which explores the relatedness of two paintings, “Diana and Actaeon” and “The Death of Actaeon.”
Here is my poem, “Titian’s Metamorphosis”:
They are twin paintings, really,
Titian’s “Diana and Actaeon” and
The one depicting his death.
Look at the positioning: in
The former, Actaeon, poised
To the left, arm raised parting
The curtain, feet apart, all
Broad shouldered and startled.
Diana, right reclining, as an Odalisque,
Right arm raised and feet, one
Caressed by a handmaid, the
Other dangling to the floor.
Seer and seen, searing gaze
And startled, glance agape.
In the latter, the roles are
Reversed: Diana to the left,
Huntress, bow flexed and ready
To shoot, sharp as her earlier withering
Arrow-glare; Actaeon, already begun
His metamorphosis, stag’s head,
Toppling and startled still,
But this time not by beauty,
By the horror of his own dogs
Ripping at his unrecognizable
Flesh. Look how his upreaching arm
Mimics Diana’s in its twin,
Handmaidens become hounds,
The cadence of his weakness
Coming down with the heaviness
Of his antler rack, head-heavy
All forgotten heedlessness,
Of beauty turned bestial.
“If looks could kill…”
–Scott Edward Anderson