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Poetry Pleases: The Arnolfini Marriage

Jan Van Eyck's famous painting, The Arnolfini Marriage, inspired Jean Cowgill to these entertaining and insightful musings.

The Bridegroom

Picture of the Arnolfini Wedding Her dowry helps the deal in Amsterdam.
My fortune is assured I can walk tall.
Father would have been proud of me at last.
Here I stand, master of all I survey, with my bride.
True she is not much to look at being too bovine.
Not good in a woman not good at all.
Yet if I have to marry she will do as well as any.
She serves her purpose carrying the Arnolfini line.
A boy, mother tells me, so no need for more.
The adventure is near concluded.
In truth I have little memory of the event.
Nerves made me drink too much wine.
Next day I awoke with crumpled bed linen,
a raging thirst and pounding head.
My cousin tells me this is usual.
So the contract is concluded, the deed is done.
Soon I will be able to return to commerce
and my sophisticated friends in Amsterdam.
When the child is born the dog will have to go.

The Bride

How have I got myself into this fine mess?
Had I been a Catholic the safety and sanctity
of convent life may have beckoned;
to have spent days in prayer or working on illuminated scripts,
with nights in solitary cells and blessed celibacy.
In the absence of a better offer I acquiesced.
Our preliminary activities were most unsatisfactory
yet necessary to prove my fertility.
In truth Giovanni had the drink taken before he came to bed.
The event was doomed to failure; another lent a hand.
I hope the child does not favour his father.
Here I stand a chattel of this pale nonentity.
Chattel, cattle are interesting words.
Made me take off my shoes not small enough he said.
His new hat makes him look taller, will he wear it abed?
How my back aches and ankles swell.
Would that the sitting, there’s a laugh, were over.
At least my dog, is here to keep me company.

The Artist

Shadow or substance, substance or shadow!
I have played my part inserting myself into this scene.
Look carefully at the mirror…do you see my likeness?
My signature is both on the wall and on the maid.
No-one can deny I’ve done my best with poor material.
Arnolfini is content he knows not the truth.
There is a fruitful outcome to the betrothal…eventually.
My patron and his bride painted in careful likeness.
The reptilian look toned down; does monochrome do him justice?
Is he a man? Has he ever felt the sun on his face?
A wisp would blow him away.
She poses demurely although her time is nigh.
Can the merchant count?
Her magnificent wedding garment weighs heavily.
(Smocking is the very devil to paint.)
Occasionally, if the two principals were absent,
my time was spent painting the background.
When Arnolfini was in Amsterdam I worked on his bride.
This was an activity only marginally more fulfilling.
My work is complete. Know when to stop is a rule of art.
More commissions will follow as night does day.
Oh Lord how I hate painting dogs.


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