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.
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.
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