Sept 8, 2014: Tate’s treatment of The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Readers,

Several times in the past we’ve printed poems that “deal with” or are inspired directly by a piece of visual art, usually a painting. I’m thinking of William Carlos Williams and Charles Demuth (The Great Figure 5), Luke Fischer and Paul Cezanne (The Bathers), and others I may be blanking on at the moment.
And today we have Dali being given the ol’ versifying once-over by … Salvador Dali! This summer I got the chance to see one of my favorite paintings, the surrealist master’s “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus.” I was a greek myth nut when I was little, and a surrealism fan in high school, so getting to see this painting live and in person at age 21 was an experience that really thrilled me. Those feelings came back this summer. But you learn something every day, and I had not previously known that when Dali first exhibited this painting in 1937, he displayed it with his own explanatory poem. Since it is meant to be explanatory, I’ll leave it at that.
The wall text made mention of disgust, desire, and anxiety, but I gotta say, I’m not sure I see that in either painting or poem. Then again, I’m a little bit of a positive polly. Painting copied below–if it doesn’t show through in your message, a google search will take you there. The Tate Gallery webpage has a nice little treatment. -ed.
Narcissus,
in his immobility,
absorbed by his reflection with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,
becomes invisible.
There remains of him only the hallucinatingly white oval of his head,
his head again more tender,
his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs,
his head held up by the tips of the water’s fingers,
at the tips of the fingers
of the insensate hand,
of the terrible hand,
of the mortal hand
of his own reflection.
When that head slits
when that head splits
when that head bursts,
it will be the flower,
the new Narcissus,
Gala – my Narcissus
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