Thoughts on a Painting by Bouguereau
To innocence, we bid farewell, its brilliant bloom now dims and sets:
Resigned to pictures framed and hung, assigned to times the world forgets.
The girls in ribboned elegance, the boys in crisp, suspendered pants,
The passive pace of Sunday strolls, two lovers holding noble hands,
The stillness of the summer sun, some gathered nuts, an impish grin,
Delights the childish hope inside; betrays the times we’re living in
Where smoky streets that web the globe are clamoring, are never still.
With spite we dream of painted scenes we’ve never known and never will.
Then, seeking to illuminate the secrets in the artist’s mind,
We choose the pen of present life to color what we find:
The girls, so elegant, are ribboned as a guise for prurient tastes;
Suspendered boys who seek to lead, by definition are debased;
The Sunday pace is onerous, the price of angry-God commands;
The lovers have ignoble thoughts of what to do with idle hands.
And even girls reclined on paths are just personas, wearing masks
That hide the crooked souls within, that lead them to the devil’s tasks.
The heart bereft, the Knights entombed. This narrative we tell the youth
Reveals effects we welcomed in and speaks to us an awful truth:
In spite of “progress,” this our curse, our cynicism and our thief --
That simple scenes provoke the worst in supposition and belief.
Through modern eyes we view the joyful essence of the human soul
As twisted, dark and seeking sin instead of being whole.
It cannot be as pure as she and she with nuts and smiles shared.
An era’s gone. That simple scene is ever altered and impaired.
For evermore, we’re apt to read the complication of the years
Into the softer, simpler times until they’ve disappeared.
And so a picnic in the mead, or sleeping in late-summer wheat,
An autumn walk in forest glade, a cycle ride through tree-lined streets,
A gathering of nuts with friends, a twilight crowd for childhood games
Are best enjoyed in galleries, with canvas, paint and golden frames --
Where moth and rust cannot destroy, where visitors may be inclined
To keep alive the innocence, if only in the mind.