Nov 25, 2013 Les Grandes Baigneuses

Dear readers,

we embark on a handful of poems and related material, related to MV members! Dalia mentioned that she was currently living in Australia, but not that her husband is an award-winning Australian poet! Of course, who would spontaneously utter such a thing to a big group? She disclosed it to me a while back and thought it would be OK to look at a poem or two of Luke Fischer’s. He recently won the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and I’ll paste a link to that announcement and some poems at the very end of today’s selection. But today’s selection (from a very recent Mascara Literary Review) needs an attachment of its own, to the Cezanne painting from which it takes its title.


The modernists and the American post-war masters were also fascinated by the interplay between poetry and the visual arts, and often took a single painting or sculpture as their inspiration, as this lyric does. I’ve always loved the approach, because it takes me to paintings I haven’t seen before, or isolates details that were previously hidden to me. In this case, because the light on the bathers is so bright, sensuous, and lovely, I never would have noticed the darkness of the background without Mr. Fisher’s use of the words “serious” and “dusk.” And I’m all for any poem with a dark cat.


It’s not so often that a poet gets to hear audience feedback, so I’m sure any responses–personal, short, immediate, long, art-history-informed, what have you–would be relayed and welcomed. Congrats to Mr. Fischer and thanks for the (3rd person) permission! NOTE: If the painting does not appear in the body of this e-mail I’ve pasted a URL for it as well. This was the only size reproduction [linked] I could find.-ed


Les Grandes Baigneuses

Cézanne, 1900-1905

The serious blue of dusk
pervades the forest and figures.
On the further shore a dense cypress
spires. To the left of the group
arranged as a chance constellation,
a woman with a trunk-like frame
trails a river of towel, the source in her hand,
while her head is submerged in blackened foliage.
Two women, kneeling on the bank like deer with
folded legs, watch a naked girl as she slowly leaves the water,
unembarrassed and contained. Her iconic profile,
ringed by a cumulonimbus steeped in twilight.
To the right a tomato cheeked farmer with ample breasts
relaxes in cushioning arms and a sturdy physique
inclines with a tree. A seated woman between them
is feeling the texture of the earth while a russet head,
still bathing alone, rinses a shoulder, looking on.
Their skins shimmer––a moonlit lake
composed of refracted sky, woods, shore.
Beside the dark cat on a table of grass:
a cane basket of fruits and a watermelon half.



One response to “Nov 25, 2013 Les Grandes Baigneuses

  1. Luke commented back to the group (after a comment from Angela):
    Thank you for featuring this poem, Matthew, and thank you for your comments, Angela; I’m glad you enjoyed the poem.

    I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the painting and poem. I wrote the first draft of the poem a few years ago after seeing the painting in the Barnes Foundation (which recently moved) in Philadelphia. On seeing it, I thought of the fact that Cézanne has been referred to as a ‘churchgoing heathen’. I have done a fair amount of research on Cézanne, as my doctoral thesis (now a book manuscript) investigated connections between Rilke and Cézanne. I find the way in which Cézanne integrates the human figures into the environment (and vice versa) in this painting fascinating. The painting also suggested to me something ritual-like, and I sought, in a subtle way, to capture this and other aspects of the painting in the poem. Anyway, I’m probably stating the obvious…

    In case anyone is interested in reading more of my poems, my first book was recently published by a press in Melbourne (I am Australian and based in Sydney). The book can be bought through the publisher’s website and posted anywhere in the world without any charge:

    Best wishes,


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