Learning About Vermeer — Beyond the Girl With the Pearl Earring

Last night I took part in a reading at the Wickford Art Gallery that focused on the paintings of Vermeer. Each of the poets was assigned a Vermeer painting and then asked to write a poem that somehow represented the painting. It was a wonderful exercise because it also meant doing a lot of reading about Vermeer and learning about his painting style, his life some 350 years ago and the stories behind his paintings. It’s a great way to explore artists because you step into their lives so completely to write the poem.

My painting was Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, and my poem is below. The poem is told from the point of view of Vermeer’s wife, who supposedly was pregnant 15 times with some 9 to 11 living to adulthood. Vermeer died at age 42, and his wife had to sell his paintings to pay their bills. It would seem she had something to say about her husband’s choices.

vermeer images
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Pouring Light                                                         
 
This morning, Jan asked me
to pose for him again.
To hold this. To touch that.
As if I didn’t have enough to do.
 
First, he covered a table with a red cloth,
and placed my jewelry case – just so –
slipping a blue ribbon over the edge.
 
Then he fidgeted with a map
on the wall behind me. He moved it.
And moved it again.
Really, what need have we for maps?
 
He turned the shallow silver basin
and my mother’s pitcher ever so slightly.
Again, touch this. Hold that.
And to think where he dropped
his muddy boots last night.
 
Then he told me to turn. Like this. Turn more.
He asked me to look toward the window.
And said, hold still.
 
It was early morning. 
A bird sang in the garden.
Church bells chimed as Delftt awoke.
I heard the children stir downstairs
And the baby cry.
 
The air was cool,
but the sun had warmed the room.
Ah, the sun! We so seldom see it here.
I must get the clothes outside on the line today.
 
And, then, suddenly –
oh, how do I put this in words?
 
I felt the light pour over me.
 
Like warm water,
it splashed over my bare arm,
soaking the fine hairs there
and then my breast,
my neck, the curls under my hoofdoek.
 
I don’t know how else to say this.
I finally understood
why Jan loves the light more than me.
More than his children.
More than life.
 
I watched dust motes
swim up and down in the white light
that saturated everything.
Even my drab house gown
was drenched in ultramarine.
I glowed. Yes, I glowed.
 
And just then Jan gasped.
Hold still, he said.
 
Yes, like that.
 
Hold still.
 
Hold.
 
Still.
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8 thoughts on “Learning About Vermeer — Beyond the Girl With the Pearl Earring

  1. Julie, that is so amazing. I’m sure your reading of your poem received accolades. I truly loved it — you painted the picture with your words.

  2. Like the poem. I was showing dad how to post oa comment. He said ihe ran into a woman who married a native american. the was when we were living on the reservation. she was originally from Holland Dad describe the house as humble (Hie ws being generous)She had a small Vermeer on the wall that she had brought from home when she married.The reservation always had surprises.

    1. Hi Nick! I saw your dad’s comment. He attached the story to a different post, but I knew what he meant to do. Loved the story! Confirms what I know to be true. I will remember it. I am touched that he took the time to share it. Thank you!

  3. Oh, I love this, Julie! What a wonderful storyteller you are! Vermeer is one of my favorite paintings. I’ve heard there are only something like 18 of his paintings still in existence. We trooped from museum to museum and saw half of them the last time we were in New York. Thank you for bringing this painting to life!

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