Raphael: Poetry in Painting at the Pushkin Museum

By Maria Michela D’Alessandro

raphaelRaphael has arrived in Moscow. A landmark exhibition dedicated to the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance opened at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts on Sept. 13. “Raphael. The Poetry of the Image” features 11 artworks, including three drawings and eight paintings — among them the artist’s iconic self-portrait. The exhibition, unprecedented in scale and significance, is a milestone cultural collaboration between the Pushkin Museum and the Uffizi Galleries.


An Italian Autumn

The much anticipated exhibition is the first time the Russian public will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with so many of the artist’s works under one roof. The inestimable value of the paintings and drawings on display, both culturally and in real terms, means that exhibitions of this nature are exceedingly rare. Some of the paintings on display have never previously left Italian soil.


“For Russians this is the first and perhaps the only time they will see Raphael’s artworks,” says Victoria Markova, curator of Italian painting at the Pushkin Museum, in an interview with The Moscow Times.


The unique event is held under the patronage of the Italian Embassy in Russia and was envisaged in a signed agreement between Eike Schmidt, director of the Florentine Uffizi Galleries and Marina Loshak, director of the Pushkin Museum, in the presence of the Italian Ambassador Cesare Maria Ragaglini.

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By Anne Sexton

the-starry-nightThat does not keep me from having a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars. –Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

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The Erotic Bard of Ancient Rome

The life of Roman poet Catullus was stranger than fiction, but a new biography speculates far more than any history should.


the-erotic-bard-of-ancient-rome“This bedspread, / Embroidered with the shapes of men / Who lived long ago, unveils the virtue of heroes / Through the miracle of art.” These lines, from a mini-epic by the Roman poet Catullus, speak of a coverlet given to Thetis, mother of Achilles, on her wedding day; Catullus is about to set its embroidered scene into motion using the “miracle” of poetry. With a racy title—Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet—and the use of this quote as epigram, classicist Daisy Dunn lays claim to a parallel miracle: The reanimation, for modern readers, of the poet himself. It’s a noble goal, but one that can be pulled off only by resorting to the dark arts of historical biography—guesswork, speculation, and the reconstruction of characters’ thoughts and feelings. Dunn’s book raises questions about how far these forms of necromancy can be taken before nonfiction passes over into fiction, and scholarship is eclipsed by romance.   

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To A Conscript Of 1940

By Herbert Read

Another reminder that Anne Fletcher will lead a discussion on Poetry of the First World War on October 27. Please see the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of Anne’s selected poems (and prose). Anne also invites members to bring their own favourites to read and discuss.

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Geoffrey Hill: Unparalleled Atonement

By Daniel E. Pritchard

geoffrey-hill-unparalleled-atonementThe recently published edition of Geoffrey Hill’s Selected Poems appears to be an attempt by Yale University Press to atone for Hill’s unpardonable lapse from print on these shores, and I must begin by applauding them for doing so. It is also — as I think all selected editions are, to some extent — an attempt to introduce, or re-introduce, the writing of this unparalleled poet to the reading public. Perhaps no re-introduction is more warranted, necessary, or welcome. Every reader of poetry ought to be acquainted with Hill’s verse, and a slimmer, less overwhelming selected edition is certainly more appealing to many readers than the task of sifting through his individual collections, many unavailable in the United States.


Unfortunately, those who are unfamiliar with Hill will find no guide to his work in this volume. Yale’s edition contains no foreword or introduction, nor a note from any editor, nor even a few words by the author — only a table of contents listing the poet’s collections, in chronological order, into which the reader blindly dives.

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by Tomas Tranströmer

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The Burden of James Dickey


the-burden-of-james-dickeyJAMES Dickey was hugely gifted and hugely flawed, a tremendous reader and a born writer, an athlete and an intellectual, a deep thinker and a drinker, a composer of burly and extremist poetry, an excessive performer, a hopeless liar, an inveterate womanizer, a father who gave himself airs. This furnished much for a son, especially a talented son, to flee from. Christopher Dickey writes,

The whisky on my father’s breath, a smell that seemed to come from deep in the bellows of his lungs, started to frighten me…. I’d smell the whisky and know that whatever I said to him would go past him and whatever he replied would be words spoken to the air. He was my father still, but he was somebody I didn’t know.

Though Summer of Deliverance tells more than other books are likely to about the life and death of James Dickey, it should be even better appreciated for what it achieves in telling the truth about the ways a son gives meaning to the weight of a father — Aeneas carrying Anchises out of burning Troy. American southerners somehow understand more about the truth of the past than northerners do; perhaps because, like William Faulkner, they know that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past,” and consequently know how to tell us more-resonant stories. Christopher Dickey’s book is southern in that it inhabits the past and the present at once: “Was I the grown man talking to his aged father, or the little boy talking to his dad?” Various observers have for years been preparing to write about the life and work of James Dickey, but those who admired his talent — or the best of his talent — have doubtless been facing that eventuality with a sinking feeling. Much of the redemptive job of biography has now been done by the poet’s elder son.

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It was a hard thing to undo this knot

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

it-was-a-hard-thing-to-undo-this-knotIt was a hard thing to undo this knot.
The rainbow shines, but only in the thought
Of him that looks. Yet not in that alone,
For who makes rainbows by invention?
And many standing round a waterfall
See one bow each, yet not the same to all,
But each a hand’s breadth further than the next.
The sun on falling waters writes the text
Which yet is in the eye or in the thought.
It was a hard thing to undo this knot.

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On Ted Hughes and Poets’ Corner

Paul Keegan  |  6 December 2011

on-ted-hughes-and-poets-cornerOn 11 November 1985 in Poets’ Corner Ted Hughes, the Poet Laureate, unveiled a memorial stone commemorating poets of the First World War – some of whom remain unnamed, and sixteen of whom are mentioned by name: including Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney and Edward Thomas.

Ted Hughes is now to be commemorated in the Abbey, unusually soon after his death in 1998. It is not always so – Shakespeare was not honoured with a monument for 125 years; Byron was not commemorated for 145 years. Buried in the poet’s corner of the Abbey – or thereabouts – are Edmund Spenser (1599), followed by Dryden, Tennyson, Browning, as well as Samuel Johnson, Dickens, Kipling and Hardy. Others who are not buried there but remembered with memorials include Shelley and Blake (who rests at Bunhill Fields, along with other notorious dissenters like Bunyan and Defoe), as well as Kipling, Auden and Eliot.

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An early reminder that on October 27 Anne Fletcher will lead a discussion on the Poetry of the First World War.

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Autumn Day

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann


autumn_dayLord: it is time. The summer was immense.

Lay your shadow on the sundials

and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;

give them another two more southerly days,

press them to ripeness, and chase

the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.

Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,

will stay up, read, write long letters,

and wander the avenues, up and down,

restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.


A final reminder that this Thursday, September 22, we will be discussing the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke, (focusing on translations by Stephen Mitchell and J.B. Leishman). See the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of poems to be featured.


Also on September 22, please bring some suggestions and ideas for topics for 2017. So far, only January is assigned.

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