September 13, 2013
Three Poems
By (Johns Hopkins University)

IN THE KUPFERSTICHKABINETT

There are drawings by Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) in which the black lead of his carpenter’s pencil has been pressed into the paper with tremendous force, far exceeding the demands of the form or the requirements of the shading in that precinct of the image.  I said to Kathrin: What we see here is first-hand evidence of Menzel’s desire— his compulsion— to make the world as real to him, and at the same time to make himself as real to the world, as it was within his power to achieve.  At whatever cost to strict fidelity to appearances, which was of urgent concern to him but only up to a point.  As Kafka wrote in another connection, “That is the point that must be reached.”

 

FROM MICHAEL SCHMIDT’S FRAUEN

In Michael Schmidt’s black-and-white photograph of a young woman’s naked back there are perhaps fifty or sixty moles of various intensities scattered across her pale skin like stars, nebulae, and galaxies in the night sky.  On a clear night, needless to say, somewhere in the countryside, far from the illumination of cities.  (Michael Schmidt lives in such a place.)  The viewer takes the point that the young women is unaware of these, that she cannot see her back, or rather could not have seen it until the artist on a follow-up occasion showed her the recently developed image.  In my enthusiasm I fantasize observing to her that, facing away from the camera and thinking her own thoughts, she was, and in Michael Schmidt’s perfectly composed photograph will forever be, a living map of an alternative universe.

 

THE PRINCE OF HOMBURG

Bugles blare, torches are lit, cavalrymen in above-the-knee boots hasten to their mounts, on all sides lethal violence strains to be unloosed, this happens not just once but many, many times, and no one, not even his most ardent admirers, knows for certain whether or not it will prove possible to awaken the Prince of Hamburg from his dream of fame and love without destroying him.

 

 

About the Author

Michael Fried is J. R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and the History of Art, Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of four books of poems: Powers, To the Center of the Earth, The Next Bend in the Road, and now Promesse du Bonheur, with photographs by James Welling.


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