11 December 2014

Poetry Thursday - Upon a Claude Glass by Michael Donaghy

Claude glass, aka "black mirror" (via)

Upon a Claude Glass

A lady might pretend to fix her face,
but scan the room inside her compact mirror –

so gentlemen would scrutinize this glass
to gaze on Windermere or Rydal Water

and pick their way along the clifftop tracks
intent upon the romance in the box,

keeping untamed nature at their backs,
and some would come to grief upon the rocks.

Don't look so smug. Don't think you're any safer
as you blunder forward through your years

straining to recall some aching pleasure,
or blinded by some private scrim of tears

I know. My world's encircled by this prop,
though all my life I've tried to force it shut.

- Michael Donaghy (via)


In 2002 the V&A and the Poetry Book Society commissioned five poets to create new works inspired by the British Galleries 1500-1900 - this is one of the poems. (Other poems about the museum are here - I'm excited to discover these!)

The notes to the poem succinctly explain what a Claude glass is, and how it's used: "Michael's poem was inspired by a Claude glass, which is a small, treated mirror contained in a box used as a portable drawing and painting aid in the late 18th century by amateur artists. The reflections in it of surrounding scenery were supposed to resemble some of the characteristics of Italian landscapes by the famous 17th-century painter and sketcher Claude Lorrain. The 'glass' consists of a slightly convex blackened mirror, which was carried in the hand and held up to the eye. The mirror's convexity reduced extensive views to the dimensions of a small drawing. The use of a blackened mirror resulted in a somewhat weakened reflection, which stressed the prominent features in the landscape at the expense of detail. It also lowered the colour key."

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004) grew up in the Bronx and moved to London in 1985. He published three collections in the UK, and was a legendary performer of his work; hear him do so here. He died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage.

Claude glasses in art -
"Like a Claude Glass 2" by Malou Busser (via)
Nova Zembla filmed through a Claude glass by Sian Bowen (see it on vimeo)

1 comment:

barleybooks said...

Lovely post, thank you. The Echo Chamber, Radio4 yesterday 4.30pm, was devoted to Michael Donaghy. Well worth listening to again on the i-player.
I always read your posts with great pleasure, though sometimes many days late!