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Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802



Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1828



September touches the Vale like a sigh,

a mellow, fruitful suspiration

edging from green to lemon, agitating

gently the skieyest leaves. The Stour

meanders to a sea of clouds vanishing

over an unimaginable Europe.

Dedham Church, a testament to wool,

focuses an especial scene: Saxon names,

corn marigolds, skylarks and enclosures.


After Napoleon, Peterloo and his wife’s

slow death, another canvas shows the same

landscape. New buildings exploit the river

and the church tower is luminous yet

vulnerable, not focal, to a whorl

of cumulus billowing from beyond

the horizon over dark, distressed elms.

Crouched under the overgrown bank of a lane,

the last you see of the painting, with her tent

and her cooking pot, a tramp woman

nurses a child under the tumbling sky.[1]

[1] The poem was first published in the Anglo-Welsh Review, has previously been published on this site and is one of the most visited.




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • John Huddart
    May 14, 2012

    Being a non-painter, I hunger to make words out of pictures, and am thankful to see the verbal life of these familiar scenes extracted. Your words bring us back to the thoughts that Constable must have wrestled with in pigments! It’s so easy to not see beneath, to see just the familiar “varnish” applied of period, convention and style.

  • Ashen Venema
    February 24, 2013

    … a mellow, fruitful suspiration … edging from green to lemon … Beautiful. The essence of September encapsulated in the first painting. A soul quality has retreated from the detailed precision of the later painting. Your poem shows a process of this interesting time of disillusionment, a new search for truth after distressing events. More is recorded, Europe saturates the imagination, the church tower looks vulnerable now. And the idea of drawing with light, photography emerged, which was initially all about replicating concrete images. Fascinating.

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