Pictures and Poetry: more Pieter Brueghel

American poet William Carlos Williams didn't put on literary airs, and is well-loved for the natural, colloquial style of his poetry. Is it any wonder that he was especially taken with the earthy lives of the peasantry in Pieter Brueghel's work, and as he might say, their workaday world? 

Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems was Williams' final book, which won a Pulitzer prize shortly after his death in 1963. Here are four of the poems and the Brueghel paintings that inspired them:  

Pieter Brueghel The Kermess oil on canvas 45" x 64.5" (1567-8)
The Dance
by William Carlos Williams 
In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess.

Pieter Brueghel The Corn Harvest oil on panel 47" x 64" (1565)
The Corn Harvest
by William Carlos Williams
the painting is organized
about a young 
reaper enjoying his
noonday rest
from his morning labors
in fact sleeping
on his back
the women
have brought him his lunch
a spot of wine
they gather gossiping
under a tree 
whose shade
he does not share the 
center of
their workaday world

 Pieter Brueghel The Blind Leading the Blind oil on linen canvas 34"x 61" (1568)
The Parable of the Blind
by William Carlos Williams
This horrible but superb painting
the parable of the blind
without a red 
in the composition shows a group
of beggars leading
each other diagonally downward 
across the canvas
from one side
to stumble finally into a bog 
where the picture
and the composition ends back
of which no seeing man 
is represented the unshaven
features of the des-
titute with their few 
pitiful possessions in a basin
to wash in a peasant
cottage is seen and a church spire 
the faces are raised
as toward the light
there is no detail extraneous 
to the composition one
follows the others stick in
hand triumphant to disaster

Pieter Brueghel The Hunters in the Snow oil on wood 46"x 64" (1565)
The Hunters in the Snow
by William Carlos Williams 
The over-all picture is winter
icy mountains
in the background the return 
from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in 
their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix 
between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire 
the flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond 
the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen 
a winter-struck bush for his
foreground to
complete the picture 
Ever the storyteller, the details in Brueghel's paintings never dissolve into the abstracted color and shape of most modern realist paintings, but reveal one vignette after another:

The Hunters in the Snow detail

The Hunters in the Snow detail

The Hunters in the Snow detail

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