the ekphrastic poems by James Wright
The Last Pieta,  
in Florence  

The whole city 
Is stone, even 
Where stone 
Doesn't belong. 
What is that old 
Man's public face 
Doing sorrowing, 
Secretly a little, 
A little above and 
A little back from 
What is that stone 
Doing sorrowing 
Where stone 
Doesn't belong? 

It's from the site maintained by 
Barewalls Interactive Art LLC 
Cambridge, Massachusetts
It's from the site maintained by 
Barewalls Interactive Art LLC 
Cambridge, Massachusetts 

"Pieta" (detail)  c. 1550   Marble, height: 226 cm 
Museo del Opera del Duomo, Florence 
It is from Web Gallery of Art

"Pieta"  c. 1550   Marble, height: 226 cm 
Museo del Opera del Duomo, Florence 
It is from Web Gallery of Art
It's from Jim's Fine Art Colleciton

Bologna: A Poem about Gold  

Give me this time, my first and severe 
Italian, a poem about gold, 
The left corners of eyes, and the heavy 
Night of the locomotives that brought me here, 
And the heavy wine in the old green body, 
The glass that so many have drunk from. 
I have brought my bottle back home every day 
To the cool cave, and come forth 
Golden on the left corner 
of a cathedral's wing: 

White wine of Bologna, 
And the knowing golden shadows 
At the left corners of Mary Magdalene's eyes, 
While St. Cecilia stands 
Smirking in the center of a blank wall, 
The saint letting her silly pipes wilt down, 
Herself, while the lowly and richest of all women eyes 
Me the beholder, with a knowing sympathy, her love 
For the golden body of the earth, she knows me, 
Her halo faintly askew, 
And no despair in her gold 
That drags thrones down 
And then makes them pay for it. 

She may look sorry to Cecilia 
The right-hand saint on the tree, 
She didn't look sorry to Raphael, 
I bet she didn't look sorry to Jesus, 
She doesn't look sorry to me. 
(Who would?) 
She doesn't look sorry to me. 

She looks like only the heavy deep gold 
That drags thrones down 
All day long on the vine. 
Mary in Bologna, sunlight I gathered all morning 
And pressed in my hands all afternoon 
And drank all day with my golden-breasted 

Love in my arms.

"St. Cecilia" by Raphael, in Bologna,  
It is from the site "Jim's Fine Art Collection."

"The Lambs on the Boulder" is about these two paintings.

"The Lamentation over the Dead Christ"  
by Andreas Mantegna  
That painting is from the site "Web Gallery of Art" 

Here is a detail showing angels from the fresco 
about the Last Judgment done by Giotto and  
his assistants for the Scrovegni Chapel. 
The painting is from the site "My Studio
The Lambs on the Boulder 

    I hear that the Commune di Padova has an exhibition of master- 
pieces from Giotto to Mantegna.  Giotto is the master of angels, and 
Mantegna is the master of the dead Christ, one of the few human 
beings who seems to have understood that Christ did indeed come 
down from the cross after all, in response to the famous jeering 
invitation, and that the Christ who came down was a cadaver.  Man- 
tegna's dead Christ looks exactly like a skidroad bum fished by the 
cops out of the Mississippi in autumn just before daylight and hurried 
off in a tarpaulin-shrouded garbage truck and deposited in another 
tangle of suicides and befuddled drunkards at the rear entrance to 
the University of Minnesota medical school.  Eternity is a vast space 
of distances as well as a curving infinity of time. 
    No doubt the exhibition in noble Padova will be a glory to behold. 
But there is a littler glory that I love best.  It is a story, which so 
intensely ought to be real that it is real. 
    One afternoon the mature medieval master Cimabue was taking 
a walk in the countryside and paused in the shade to watch a shep- 
herd boy.  The child was trying to scratch sketches of his lambs on 
a boulder at the edge of the field.  He used nothing, for he could 
find nothing, but a little sharp pebble. 
    Cimabue took the shepherd boy home with him and gave him 
some parchment and a nail or a crayon or something or other, and 
began to show him how to draw and form lines into the grandeur 
of faces other than the sweet faces of sheep. 
    The shepherd boy was Giotto, and he learned how to draw and 
form lines into the grandeur of faces other than the sweet faces of 
sheep.  I don't give a damn whether you believe this story or not.  I 
do. I have seen faces of angels drawn by Giotto. if angels do not 
look like Giotto's angels, they have been neglecting their health 
behind God's back. 
    One of my idle wishes is to find that field where Cimabue stood 
in the shade and watched the boy Giotto scratching his stone with 
his pebble. 
    I would not be so foolish as to prefer the faces of the boy's lambs 
to the faces of his angels. one has to act his age sooner or later. 
    Still, this little planet of rocks and grass is all we have to start 
with.  How pretty it would be, the sweet faces of the boy Giotto's 
lambs gouged, with infinite and still uncertain and painful care, on 
the side of a boulder at the edge of a country field. 
    I wonder how long Cimabue stood watching before he said any- 
thing.  I'll bet he watched for a very long time.  He was Cimabue. 
    I wonder how long Giotto worked before he noticed that he was 
being watched.  I'll bet he worked a very long time.  He was Giotto. 
    He probably paused every so often to take a drink of water and 
tend to the needs of his sheep, and then returned patiently to his 
patient boulder, before he heard over his shoulder in the twilight 
the courtesy of the Italian good evening from the countryside man 
who stood, certainly out of the little daylight left to the shepherd 
and his sheep alike. 
    I wonder where that boulder is.  I wonder if the sweet faces of 
the lambs are still scratched on its sunlit side. 
    By God I know this much.  Worse men than Giotto have lived 
longer than Giotto lived. 
    And uglier things than Giotto's wobbly scratches on a coarse 
boulder at the edge of a grassy field are rotting and toppling into 
decay at this very moment.  By the time I reach Padova at fifteen 
minutes past four this afternoon, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to 
hear that Rockefeller's Mall in Albany, New York, had begun to sag 
and ooze its grandiose slime all over the surrounding city of the 
plain, and it will stink in the nostrils of God Almighty like the incense 
burned and offered up as a putrid gift on the altars of the Lord, 
while the King Jeroboam the Second imprisoned the righteous for 
silver and sold the poor for the buckles on a pair of shoes. 
    Giotto's boyish hand scratched the sweet faces of lambs on a 
coarse stone. 
    I wonder where the stone is.  I will never live to see it. 
    I lived to see the Mall in Albany, though. 
    In one of the mature Giotto's greatest glories, a huge choir of his 
unutterably beautiful angels are lifting their faces and are becoming 
the sons of the morning, singing out of pure happiness the praises 
of God. 
    Far back in the angelic choir, a slightly smaller angel has folded 
his wings.  He has turned slightly away from the light and lifted his 
hands.  You cannot even see his face.  I don't know why he is weeping. 
    But I love him best. 
    I think he must be wondering how long it will take Giotto to 
remember him, give him a drink of water, and take him back home 
to the fold before it gets dark and shepherd and sheep alike lose 
their way in the darkness of the countryside. 



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