poetry – Brussels, Mid-November

I don’t really write poetry anymore. I guess I’m just not disciplined enough to keep my ideas within such tight boundaries and remain so focussed. However, about ten years ago I went through a stage of writing several poems.

This one followed a visit to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, which houses my favourite painting – The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. There are a number of reasons why I love this piece of art. First and foremost, it’s the narrative that lies behind it – the fact that Charlotte Corday had murdered one of the most outspoken of all revolutionary leaders in his bath, that she herself would be sent to the guillotine for this, and that David sat there and painted the work with the corpse still fresh in front of him. I’m also fascinated, however, with the way in which the artist painted Marat as a martyr, his towel almost like a halo around his head, the politician’s famous skin complaint painted out of the picture. And in this respect The Death of Marat works as a clear piece of revolutionary propaganda – ‘revolution’s reportage.’


Brussels, Mid-November

Wind and trees at war in the royal park.

The traffic fraught, we cross

The road, and enter the Musées Royaux.

Inside lies art, immured against the cold’s siege,

Rodin’s thinker keeps his head below the breeze,

Magritte’s impudence rebukes the weather.


Can all art escape the chill?

Marat wrinkles in his bath

The act of crime so fresh it seems

That blood lies wet upon the canvas.

One pale limp arm extends below the tub

Reaching for David, the public, us.


Revolution’s reportage?

A blast of icy, time-soaked air?

But clutching his judicial pen

Corpse is poised with cloth-crowned head.

Behind him the light leaks away

Its absence swirling round Corday.