Thursday, June 14, 2018

Poetry Friday: Self-Portraits

Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits
by Elizabeth Jennings

You are confronted with yourself. Each year
The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.
You give it all unflinchingly. You stare
Into yourself, beyond. Your brush's care
Runs with self-knowledge. Here
Is a humility at one with craft.
There is no arrogance. Pride is apart
From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift
The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt
But there is still love left.
Love of the art and others. To the last
Experiment went on. You stared beyond
Your age, the times. You also plucked the past
And tempered it. Self-portraits understand,
And old age can divest,
With truthful changes, us of fear of death.
Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,
The sadness and the joy. To paint's to breathe,
And all the darknesses are dared. You chose
What each must reckon with.

Photo Source:

At this link you can watch a video about the painting. (I embedded it here but couldn't figure out how to keep it from playing automatically, which is annoying.) The video talks about how Rembrandt was his own favorite model.  I'm not sure that I'd use "favorite" to talk about how I feel about myself as a model, but we're definitely stuck with ourselves as models for whatever art it is we're trying to make.  That face, those emotions, that history, those same issues that keep re-emerging year after year.  "You are confronted with yourself," as Elizabeth Jennings puts it.  "Your face is bruised and hurt/ But there is still love left."

Rembrandt was 53 when he painted this self-portrait.  The other day I saw on Facebook that someone had posted an article about a survey in which people were asked at what age old folks should stop wearing jeans.  The result: age 53.  So what I want to know now is: if I just have a few years left of wearing jeans, is it OK if I get myself a hat like Rembrandt's?  Will the Zeitgeist, which apparently now chooses my wardrobe, permit me that indulgence? If I could paint, I would then paint a self-portrait with a little worried line between my eyes, similar to his.  Since I can't paint, I can at least snap a selfie, trying to capture "the sadness and the joy." 

Karen Edmisten has the roundup today.


Kay said...

Oh my I'm not sure I can give up jeans at age 53! I think I will ignore those people--whoever "they" are. I do hope I can learn to follow the artist's example of learning to live with myself as I age.

Linda B said...

I'm never giving up jeans and I'm way over 53, but perhaps those who decided were way "under" 53. I enjoyed reading the poem and watching the video, then reading your own thoughts Ruth. Yes, we are stuck with ourselves, aren't we?

Tabatha said...

I had never heard that there was a societal precept about jeans wearing...bizarre! I guess I will file that away with when women should cut their hair. As you might guess, I support you in your hat pursuits, whatever they may be.

(I posted about Rembrandt's self-portraits here with a poem, of course)

Mitchell Linda said...

Ha! I am going to tick off the world by wearing jeans far past 53. I really like this poem as lately, I've been looking at people who's hair has obviously changed from their natural color of youth to gray or white. I've decided to let my hair gray naturally as long as I can stand it...and, I find myself making assumptions about these people I see out in the world wearing their age on their head. I think it's brave and I find myself confronting my bias and stereotypes. I'm sure there is a poem or some writing in this stage I'm in. But, that Rembrandt used himself so much as a model might just be that he was fascinated with his changing self...the inside and the outside. Great post today...and incredible poem.

Irene Latham said...

There is love left. Yes! I love looking at old people, so marked by their lives and stories... I look at myself now becoming older, becoming more invisible as kind of a gift: see me for me, not for the casing. But then I was "born older." In those conversations where we talk about our internal age (and some say 6 or 17 or 21), I don't really know, because I haven't gotten there yet. Thank you, Ruth! xo

Books4Learning said...

I like how you start with a confrontation of self. You really have to look closely if you are going to paint yourself—see every flaw. I could not do it. I can’t even look at a photo of myself more than a second! LOL Nice poem. Thanks for it.

Michelle Kogan said...

Beautiful and truthful poem, long live love in all form–and we all need to wear whatever we want to, thanks Ruth!

Mary Lee said...

I'm past 53, still wearing jeans (no end in sight), and I continue the journey of loving the ever-changing face I see in the mirror.

Diane Mayr said...

...Each year
The pouches fill

Pouches I never knew could exist! Thanks for sharing this, Ruth!

Laura Shovan said...

Wonderful poem. This reminds me of visiting an older artist's studio a few years ago. The walls were covered with self-portraits. What subject is more readily available than one's own changing face?

laurasalas said...

This is so interesting. When I get a haircut, I always feel funny looking at myself in the mirror in front of someone else when the cut is finished. Can't imagine painting myself! But of course my own pouches and aging are just as imbued in my poetry as Rembrandt's pouches were shown in his...