Image via: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
You’ve probably glanced at or studied this well-known 1886 painting by Impressionist George Seurat. Perhaps it was from a lesson on Pointillism or maybe you remember it from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
When poet Rebecca Watts tried her hand at an ekphrastic poem, a piece speaking about or inspired by a work of visual art, she felt Seurat’s painting was perfect. She said, “So much is going on in the picture and the fashions of the times are so evocative, I found myself creating a narrative tour of the afternoon.”
Read the poem in its entirety below:
On Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island at La Grande Jatte – 1884
Parasols frozen in mid-twirl,
straight-lined, straight-laced women,
and so many hats. Gentlemen’s hats gravely
unadorned; ladies’ hats poised for flight
with their assemblage of feathers and blooms.
And that woman at water’s edge,
her once red dress now oranged by the sun.
Of course she’s corseted,
her fashionable hat tilted low.
And something must tease her fishing pole, lining
toward the water just beyond the frame.
What mischief will come
from that monkey and the two stray dogs?
A tasseled fan lies in the grass
behind the bare-armed man reclining,
who looks so casual, the tip of his pipe playing
about his lips. Is it the curve of his thigh,
the arch of his brow, the half-lidded
gaze that makes him smoulder?
And what of the monkey’s mistress?
The woman in black and gray
who stands rigid by her man
not five steps behind the sunbather?
She gazes coolly out from the shade of trees,
parasol at rest on her shoulder,
her visage a starched façade.
Tell me she doesn’t notice him.
Rebecca Watts is a public librarian who has facilitated a community writers’ group for the last ten years. Lately, her personal study of poetry has intensified with both wider reading and attending public readings of nationally renowned poets in Atlanta. Writer William Wright suggested she share her work with the world, and that she did!