BRUEGEL: ‘RETURN OF THE HUNTERS’


                              i

To choose this as a classic Christmas card –

this composite landscape of Flanders,

Italy, the Alps, this Yuletide Europe – is

unintentional satire. The hunters

have caught just one fox. Even the hounds are hangdog.

Hunched the men trudge on past the tavern.

The sign is inscribed ‘Under the Stag’,

has an image of St Eustace, patron

of hunters, but hangs askew by one hook.

Beneath it a man, a woman and a child

are singeing a dead pig. The flames are reaching

a window of the inn. A solitary

magpie takes our view onto the plain:

the iced up mill wheel, indifferent skaters,

chimney on fire and tiny figures

running with pails; the walled town abutting

a frozen sea; the rearing mountains.

 

ii

We had prints at home – ‘In the Orchard’,

‘Off Valpariso’, ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ –

but nothing like this. I saw it first

at the back of a schoolroom when I was nine.

My desk was beneath it. I found a copy

ten years later and felt I had retrieved

a lost gift, a book only half read

then mislaid. More than half a century on

framed now it hangs in our dining room.

 

iii

My grand daughter says, ‘I love that picture.’

‘Why?,’ I ask. ‘Don’t know,’ she mumbles. How crass

to have asked! I would not have known then

if anybody had cared to question me.

The print hung on the class wall unremarked.

While we did sums and spellings and tests,

the perspective at the back of my head

beckoned me.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Kate Bell - February 8th, 2017 at 22:13

    The perspective at the back of the head should always do that! I love the wrapping together of images and personal life, of Breughel’s family day out and the personal lives of your own family. Rare and enchanting!

  2. #2 by Alan Horne - March 20th, 2017 at 22:27

    This is lovely, David, and it’s so difficult to capture one art form in another. The firefighting in the background (at the back of the head?) caught my imagination. Auden has the idea (I think in ‘The Shield of Achilles’) of the torturer’s hourse peacefully cropping grass in the background of an atrocity. You seem to have been able to follow Brueghel in reversing this, so that there’s a calm, reflective foreground with a frenzy of activity at the margins. Most interesting.

  3. #3 by David Selzer - March 21st, 2017 at 11:35

    Thank you for the appreciative comment, Alan.The Auden poem you’re thinking of is ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ – http://english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/auden.html. But thank you for reminding me of ‘The Shield of Achilles’ – https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/shield-achilles. I haven’t read it in decades. It’s a fine piece, always topical.

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