Le Juif En Vert

“I had the impression that the old man was green;
perhaps a shadow from my heart fell upon him.”

                                                                —Chagall

The tender darkness grotesques him, bilious, alien,
One eye wide, the other squinting at Hebrew
Etched in a wall his tiny hand has begun
To scan. Such a natural shade must be true
To more than paint, the artist himself, breath-close
And hunched over with fascination
For the mendicant rebbe’s Russian cap, his
Patched sleeves and rays of golden beard. Vision
Has its own language beyond time or place
Though it must have felt terrible to walk around
Blessed with that verdant face and never take
Root, have anywhere. He still needs to find
The words, the right earth for his wandering,
For his buried heart to bloom from nothing.

                                                          —David Moolten

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36 comments
  1. Great words, visually effective. And it’s so true about visions.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Anthony,

      Thanks for the kind praise.

  2. Irene said:

    An interesting portrait full of empathy. Free of spam.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Irene.

  3. Linda said:

    Congratulations on your book and the award! It was exciting to read about this.

    About your poem, You are wonderful at painting visions with your words. The image of the old man became real and alive for me. Was he reading ancient hebrew spam on the wall? Did he find the right words? Lovely work.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Linda, I was very excited about winning, to be sure. And thank you for your generous comments about the poem. Paintings make great subjects for poems, because they both thrive on imagery.

  4. rallentanda said:

    Isn’t that beautiful poetry from Chagall’perhaps a shadow from my heart fell upon him’ and you used Shakespearean Sonnet form with slant rhyme.I know this painting.Again a sad one.The frail old man, Eastern European Jew oppressed,.Conjures up images of pogroms,yiddish, matzoh ball soup,buckwheat,poverty and hardship and I suppose he did find the right earth to make a planting and bloom from except it’s a bit of a struggle to hang on to it! Next week it’s the Petrarchan Sonnet!

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Rall,

      Thanks for the praise, and for the challenge of the sonnet. I’ll set to work on a Petrarchan.

  5. Derrick said:

    Your words paint a sad picture, beautifully, David. And I’m learning more about art each week!

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Derrick. Chagall’s paintings are amazing, tragic, but still somehow uplifiting.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Gautami.

  6. mark said:

    Light on the spam, heavy on the thinking and beauty. What more could a reader ask?

    I love how it sounds aloud…

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks so much. There wasn’t much that was spam-like in the painting either.

      David

  7. I love the visuals here, and I love your ending: “He still needs to find/
    The words, the right earth for his wandering,/For his buried heart to bloom from nothing.” I get a sense of wandering and not finding a place to root or fit in. I can relate to that. Very powerful.

    -Nicole

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Nicole,

      Thank you. I love writing about art because I can be very interpretive and there is so much color to begin with. Chagall’s paintings are full of wandering, but always with a hint of buoyancy.

  8. poetryaboutart said:

    Another masterpiece of ekphrasis, David, and with the added emphasis on words/texts themselves (an epigraph, Hebrew letters, formal initical caps on all lines, etc.) — almost an ars poetica. Certainly here you provide the reader with poetry-as-speaking-picture (“needs to find/ The words”), a picture that you chose to cast your poetic shadows upon. The color green is very telling — color of both shriveling envy and spring bounty. Also a color that Chagall may have truly seen if his eyes were somewhat colorblind. Great job as usual.
    –Therese L. Broderick

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Therese. Chagall was funny about his color scheme. Green for him was focused a great deal on hope and life. His Moses had a green face, and many of his animals. I think his comment was deliberately coy, as many of his remarks were. But that’s the fun of interpretation.

  9. lovely meditation on the painting, and respite from the spam

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Barbara,

      Thank you. I just didn’t have spam in me this week…

  10. Mon ami un juif vert est pas mûr au Torah. Oh I really liked this. Just finished reading Michener’s “The Source” for about the fourth time. Your “Jew is Green” poem pulled me back to some of the passages in the book. There is a melody in this poem that needs to be sung, can you hear it David? This poem is ‘kavanat ha lev’. I really enjoyed reading this. No I’m not Jewish!
    Regards
    Donald Harbour

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Donald,

      Your French is better than mine. It’s funny you talk about music, because I often listen to music to get my juices going. In this case I was listening to Fritz Kreisler on violin playing a melody based on Russian themes, a very wistful and nostalgic piece. Thanks for the kind remarks.

  11. Chagall is one of my favorites. Reading your poem took me back to his windows: the choir of St. Stephanskirche in Mainz; the synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem; the America window at the Art Institute in Chicago… his Four Seasons mosaic in Chicago… Moi et let village

    Particularly love your words:

    …”Vision
    Has its own language beyond time or place

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Paul,

      Thank you.

      I’ve not seen the first two in person, but I have the works in Chicago. Chagall is also one of my favorites, and I have written (or attempted) numerous ekphrastic poems in his honor.

      Best,
      David

  12. I had to look up this painting online as I was unfamiliar with it…which is a good thing as not only did I get to read a beautiful poem (the last line is perfect, sad, and lovely) but I learned more about art! Thank you David, for always inspiring me…

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks so much Cynthia. Chagall is one of my favorite painters.

  13. I know everyone’s already mentioned, but… I’m a huge fan of Chagall as well, and I love how you summon up the tone of his work with your own (cleverly formed and brilliantly worded) piece. The last few lines are exceptionally powerful. Well done. :)

    • davidmoolten said:

      Joseph,

      Thanks for the generous and positive take on my poem.

  14. Hi David,

    Thanks for turning me on to Chagall. I like the imagery of your poem. I get a sense of something historic, something important, some steadfast in the way the painter approaches his work.

    Clay

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Clay,

      Thanks for stopping by my blog. Chagall painted a lot from memory. He lived in exile pretty much his whole life, and the small town in which he was raised was destroyed during WWII, so all he had was the history in his head.

  15. From the moment I got to “blessed with that verdant face” I fell, my not-verdant-face first, into the moment.

    Thank you.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks much for your comments Julie.

  16. wayne said:

    WOW….your such a wonderful writer….what a paintiung…thanks David

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Wayne,

      Thank you.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Elizabeth.

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