Richard Brinsley Sheridan – A Portrait, 1777

Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school,
Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,
Lives there no character, so tried, so known,
So deck’d with grace, and so unlike your own,
That even you assist her fame to raise,
Approve by envy, and by silence praise!
Attend!—a model shall attract your view—
Daughters of calumny, I summon you!
You shall decide if this a portrait prove,
Or fond creation of the Muse and Love.
Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage,
Ye matron censors of this childish age,
Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare
A fix’d antipathy to young and fair;
By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold,—
In maiden madness, virulently bold;—
Attend, ye skill’d to coin the precious tale,
Creating proof, where innuendos fail!
Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,
Omit no circumstance, except the fact!—
Attend, all ye who boast,—or old or young,—
The living libel of a slanderous tongue!
So shall my theme, as far contrasted be,
As saints by fiends or hymns by calumny.
Come, gentle Amoret (for ’neath that name
In worthier verse is sung thy beauty’s fame),
Come—for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while
Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile.
With timid grace and hesitating eye,
The perfect model which I boast supply:—
Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate—
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face—
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine;
That art, which well might added lustre give
To nature’s best and heaven’s superlative:
On Granby’s cheek might bid new glories rise.
Or point a purer beam from Devon’s eyes!
Hard is the task to shape that beauty’s praise,
Whose judgment scorns the homage flattery pays?
But praising Amoret we cannot err,
No tongue o’ervalues Heaven, or flatters her!
Yet she by fate’s perverseness—she alone
Would doubt our truth, nor deem such praise her own!
Adorning fashion, unadorn’d by dress,
Simple from taste, and not from carelessness;
Discreet in gesture, in deportment mild,
Not stiff with prudence, nor uncouthly wild:
No state has Amoret; no studied mien;
She frowns no goddess, and she moves no queen,
The softer charm that in her manner lies
Is framed to captivate, yet not surprise;
It justly suits the expression of her face,—
’Tis less than dignity, and more than grace!
On her pure cheek the native hue is such,
That, form’d by Heaven to be admired so much,
The hand divine, with a less partial care,
Might well have fix’d a fainter crimson there,
And bade the gentle inmate of her breast—
Inshrined Modesty—supply the rest.
But who the peril of her lips shall paint?
Strip them of smiles—still, still all words are faint!
But moving Love himself appears to teach
Their action, though denied to rule her speech;
And thou who seest her speak, and dost not hear,
Mourn not her distant accents ’scape thine ear;
Viewing those lips, thou still may’st make pretence
To judge of what she says, and swear ’tis sense:
Clothed with such grace, with such expression fraught,
They move in meaning, and they pause in thought!
But dost thou farther watch, with charm’d surprise,
The mild irresolution of her eyes,
Curious to mark how frequent they repose,
In brief eclipse and momentary close—
Ah! seest thou not an ambush’d Cupid there,
Too tim’rous of his charge, with jealous care
Veils and unveils those beams of heavenly light,
Too full, too fatal else, for mortal sight?
Nor yet, such pleasing vengeance fond to meet,
In pard’ning dimples hope a safe retreat.
What though her peaceful breast should ne’er allow
Subduing frowns to arm her altered brow,
By Love, I swear, and by his gentle wiles,
More fatal still the mercy of her smiles!
Thus lovely, thus adorn’d, possessing all
Of bright or fair that can to woman fall,
The height of vanity might well be thought
Prerogative in her, and Nature’s fault.
Yet gentle Amoret, in mind supreme
As well as charms, rejects the vainer theme;
And, half mistrustful of her beauty’s store,
She barbs with wit those darts too keen before:—
Read in all knowledge that her sex should reach,
Though Greville, or the Muse, should deign to teach,
Fond to improve, nor timorous to discern
How far it is a woman’s grace to learn;
In Millar’s dialect she would not prove
Apollo’s priestess, but Apollo’s love,
Graced by those signs which truth delights to own,
The timid blush, and mild submitted tone:
Whate’er she says, though sense appear throughout,
Displays the tender hue of female doubt;
Deck’d with that charm, how lovely wit appears,
How graceful science, when that robe she wears!
Such too her talents, and her bent of mind,
As speak a sprightly heart by thought refined:
A taste for mirth, by contemplation school’d,
A turn for ridicule, by candour ruled,
A scorn of folly, which she tries to hide;
An awe of talent, which she owns with pride!
Peace, idle Muse! no more thy strain prolong,
But yield a theme, thy warmest praises wrong;
Just to her merit, though thou canst not raise
Thy feeble verse, behold th’ acknowledged praise
Has spread conviction through the envious train,
And cast a fatal gloom o’er Scandal’s reign!
And lo! each pallid hag, with blister’d tongue,
Mutters assent to all thy zeal has sung–
Owns all the colours just–the outline true;
Thee my inspirer, and my model–CREWE!

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). A Portrait. 1777. (Addressed to Mrs Crewe, with the Comedy of The School for Scandal)

C P Cavafy – I brought to art

I sit in a mood of reverie.
I brought to Art desires and sensations:
things half-glimpsed,
faces or lines, certain indistinct memories
of unfulfilled love affairs. Let me submit to Art:
Art knows how to shape forms of Beauty,
almost imperceptibly completing life,
blending impressions, blending day with day

C.P. Cavafy, I brought to art. Collected Poems.

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992

Kingsley Amis – Shitty, 1955


Look thy last on all things shitty
While thou’rt at it: soccer stars,
Soccer crowds, bedezined bushheads
Jerking over their guitars.

German tourists, plastic roses,
Face of Mao and face of Ché,
Women wearing curtains, blankets,
Beckett at the ICA.

High-rise blocks and action paintings,
Sculptures made from wire and lead:
Each of them a sight more lovely
Than the screens around your bed.

Kingsley Amis, 1922 -1995

Shitty, 1955 from Collected Poems 1944–1979

Image: Terence Donovan (1936-1996), Man About Town, 1960

Arthur Conan-Doyle – A Post-Impressionist, 1922

Peter Wilson, A.R.A.,
In his small atelier,
Studied Continental Schools,
Drew by Academic rules.
So he made his bid for fame,
But no golden answer came,
For the fashion of his day
Chanced to set the other way,
And decadent forms of Art
Drew the patrons of the mart.
Now this poor reward of merit
Rankled so in Peter’s spirit,
It was more than he could bear;
So one night in mad despair
He took his canvas for the year
(“Isle of Wight from Southsea Pier”),
And he hurled it from his sight,
Hurled it blindly to the night,
Saw it fall diminuendo
From the open lattice window,
Till it landed with a flop
On the dust-bin’s ashen top,
Where, ‘mid damp and rain and grime,
It remained till morning time.
Then when morning brought reflection,
He was shamed at his dejection,
And he thought with consternation
Of his poor, ill-used creation;
Down he rushed, and found it there
Lying all exposed and bare,
Mud-bespattered, spoiled, and botched,
Water sodden, fungus-blotched,
All the outlines blurred and wavy,
All the colours turned to gravy,
Fluids of a dappled hue,
Blues on red and reds on blue,
A pea-green mother with her daughter,
Crazy boats on crazy water
Steering out to who knows what,
An island or a lobster-pot?
Oh, the wretched man’s despair!
Was it lost beyond repair?
Swift he bore it from below,
Hastened to the studio,
Where with anxious eyes he studied
If the ruin, blotched and muddied,
Could by any human skill
Be made a normal picture still.
Thus in most repentant mood
Unhappy Peter Wilson stood,
When, with pompous face, self-centred,
Willoughby the critic entered —
He of whom it has been said
He lives a century ahead —
And sees with his prophetic eye
The forms which Time will justify,
A fact which surely must abate
All longing to reincarnate.
“Ah, Wilson,” said the famous man,
Turning himself the walls to scan,
“The same old style of thing I trace,
Workmanlike but commonplace.
Believe me, sir, the work that lives
Must furnish more than Nature gives.
‘The light that never was,’ you know,
That is your mark — but here, hullo!
What’s this? What’s this? Magnificent!
I’ve wronged you, Wilson! I repent!
A masterpiece! A perfect thing!
What atmosphere! What colouring!
Spanish Armada, is it not?
A view of Ryde, no matter what,
I pledge my critical renown
That this will be the talk of Town.
Where did you get those daring hues,
Those blues on reds, those reds on blues?
That pea-green face, that gamboge sky?
You’ve far outcried the latest cry—
Out Monet-ed Monet. I have said
Our Art was sleeping, but not dead.
Long have we waited for the Star,
I watched the skies for it afar,
The hour has come—and here you are.”
And that is how our artist friend
Found his struggles at an end,
And from his little Chelsea flat
Became the Park Lane plutocrat.
‘Neath his sheltered garden wall
When the rain begins to fall,
And the stormy winds do blow,
You may see them in a row,
Red effects and lake and yellow
Getting nicely blurred and mellow.
With the subtle gauzy mist
Of the great Impressionist.
Ask him how he chanced to find
How to leave the French behind,
And he answers quick and smart,
“English climate’s best for Art.”

Arthur Conan-Doyle, 1859-1930

A Post-Impressionist (Songs of the Road), 1922

Apollo against the Artists, 1857

“I also am a painter!” was said, as all men know
And said by no mean artist, three centuries ago.
But lo! An artist greater far among us now appears;
For after shining quietly on for twice three thousand years
Old Sol takes up his parable, and says – “I’ve now on view
Some pictures that, perhaps, may show that I’m an artist too.”

“If any man shall doubt the fact, let him proceed straightway
To my Great Exhibition-Room and there his shilling pay.
I think I there may promise him his shilling’s worth and more
In Portraits such as mortal eye ne’er looked upon before;
In Temples and in Palaces – in scenes by land and sea –
For nothing that I shine upon can come amiss to me!”

Old Sol had scarcely spoken thus, when forth I went straightway
To his Great Exhibition-Room, my shilling there to pay.
And scarcely had I passed the door, and laid my money down
When I exclaimed  “A shilling’s worth! Why this is worth a crown.
He really is a painter!  His own account is true.
I only wish we saw him here far oft’ner than we do.”

Apollo against the Artists

The Courant, 22 January 1857

e.e. cummings: Picasso… (XXIII)

you give us Things
bulge: grunting lungs pumped full of sharp thick mind

you make us shrill
presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of

(out of the
black unbunged
Something gushes vaguely a squeak of planes

between squeals of
Nothing grabbed with circular shrieking tightness
solid screams whisper.)
Lumberman of The Distinct

your brain’s
axe only chops hugest inherent
Trees of Ego, from
whose living and biggest

bodies lopped
of every

you hew form truly

e.e. cummings, 1894-1962

Picasso… (XXIII)

C P Cavafy – Picture Of A 23-Year-Old Youth Painted By His Friend Of The Same Age, An Amateur

He finished the painting yesterday noon. Now
he studies it in detail. He has painted him in a
grey unbuttoned coat, a deep gray; without
any vest or any tie. With a rose-colored shirt;
open at the collar, so something might be seen
also of the beauty of his chest, of his neck.
The right temple is almost entirely 
by his hair, his beautiful hair
(parted in the manner he prefers it this year).
There is the completely voluptuous tone
he wanted to put into it when he was doing the eyes,
when he was doing the lips…. His mouth, the lips
that are made for consummation, for choice love-making.


Constantine P Cavafy, 1863 – 1933

Picture Of A 23-Year-Old Youth Painted By His Friend Of The Same Age, An Amateur

W H Auden: Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W H Auden, 1907-1973: Musée des Beaux Arts, 1938

Image: Pieter Breughel. The Fall of Icarus
Oil-tempera, 29 inches x 44 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels

William Carlos Williams: Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning


William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, 1962

Image: Pieter Breughel, c 1525-9 – 1569. The Fall of Icarus. c. 1560s. Oil-tempera, 29 inches x 44 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.

Philip Larkin – The Card-Players, 1970

Adrian Brouwer The Card Players

Jan van Hogspeuw staggers to the door
And pisses at the dark. Outside, the rain
Courses in cart-ruts down the deep mud lane.
Inside, Dirk Dogstoerd pours himself some more,
And holds a cinder to his clay with tongs,
Belching out smoke. Old Prijck snores with the gale,
His skull face firelit; someone behind drinks ale,
And opens mussels, and croaks scraps of songs
Towards the ham-hung rafters about love.
Dirk deals the cards. Wet century-wide trees
Clash in surrounding starlessness above
This lamplit cave, where Jan turns back and farts,
Gobs at the grate, and hits the queen of hearts.

Rain, wind and fire! The secret, bestial peace!

Philip Larkin, 1922-1985 The Card-Players

The Card-Players, 6 May 1970, from, High Windows, 1974. Published by Faber and Faber, London

Image: Adrian Brouwer, 1605/6-1638,  Kaartspelers en Brassers / The Card Players, c. 1630s, oil on panel, 25 x 39 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp / Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium