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Robert Hayden

Hayden’s “Monet’s Waterlilies”

As I noted earlier, violence is a constant theme of Hayden’s poetry, but the later half of Collected Poems contains a few poems that seem to counterbalance this view with the narrator finding personal escape, even enjoyment in the arts and in natural beauty, or, more often, in the combination of the two.

My favorite of these is probably: MONET’S WATERLILIES

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.

I’m definitely a child of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam, particularly Vietnam since I fought there. It did poison my life, just as much as the constant threat of nuclear war and radioactive fallout clouded my childhood. Looking back, it almost seems a miracle that the greatest love of my life turned out to be poetry and art.

As I’ve mentioned before, art and literature have often reinforced my spiritual beliefs, substituting for religious practices largely lacking in my life. Long before I was drawn to poetry, I loved art, and, though I’ve seldom seen their paintings, I’ve been particularly drawn to the Impressionists, perhaps not too surprising considering my love of photography. I imagine I’ll still be trying to capture the elusive “iridescence” that makes life worth living until I die.

The final stanza, with its sense of loss reminds me a lot of Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, one of my favorite Romantic Poems.