Furthermore, does life imitate life and art imitate art? Many times over, artists have drawn inspiration from one another. Nemerov has done exactly this in his poem, “Vermeer”, which is based around the works of the artist Johannes Van der Meer, otherwise known as Jan Vermeer. This poem ensnares the reader in the story of Verneer’s many works of art. The poem begins almost with a narration, but then morphs into a scene painted like Vermeer’s works themselves, with imagery that describes the paintings Vermeer painted. This poem achieves its purpose of painting a scene and telling a story by using elevated and precise diction, detailed imagery and hidden meanings, and the transition of outside the paintings to inside them. In a poem, every word is important.
In “Vermeer”, the language is understandable in all but a few words. It is not the level that the words are that hold the power in this piece. However, the few times when words are used that are not widely known, they mean more. For example, in the line, “Endlessly, even the inexorable / Domesticates itself and becomes charm” (10-11, Nemerov), the word “inexorable” means impossible to stop. This word isn’t in the average person’s vocabulary, so why would Nemerov choose to use it? It helps the poem flow forward without using too many syllables in one line, simplifies a longer phrase, and names a thing (“The Inexorable”) that can then be personified as it “domesticates itself”. In another case, Nemerov uses the word “modesty” as a noun in the quote “How beautiful! a modesty which is / Seductive extremely, the care for daily things” (5-6, Nemerov).
The word modesty is defined as the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities. Vermeer’s paintings are not centered around drama and the extreme. Instead, his pieces focus on regular scenes like a stormy or a woman reading a letter. His paintings showcased his talents in painting without boasting epic scenes, and the wording of modesty is the perfect indicator of that. Imagery is used throughout the entirety of this piece, but along with it there are double meanings to some of the images presented. For example, in the second stanza there is the line “In a lost city across the sea of years” (17, Nemerov), Nemerov may have meant this as an allusion to Vermeer’s painting of his home in the Netherlands, “View of Delft”, which features water and the town as it had been in the 17th century, when Vermeer had been alive. However, he also may have used this wording as a sign of a passage of time between Vermeer releasing his paintings and now, centuries later, when passerby may find his art in a museum, which is a sign of the past and the lost. Another instance of this double imagery is “In the great reckoning of those little rooms” (19, Nemerov).
The line could mean the room that is reoccuring in many Vermeer’s pieces, with a leaded window on the left and a map on the wall. However, it could be that the line is a hint of the poem subject being art, with the little rooms being each of the paintings he has brought up and the great reckoning being the impressive artwork within them. Lastly, Nemerov partitions off his two stanzas in writing and in point of view to show a transition of how the readers are meant to see the paintings he describes. In the first stanza, it is as though the readers are watching the scenes within the paintings, with them being paintings and nothing more. Nemerov specifically uses the word “pretending” in the line “Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures” (2). His use of the word “pretending” may factor into the view of the pretend scenes depicted. Then, in the second stanza, it’s as if the story has suddenly become more personal and intimate, and it is written to make the reader feel as though they are a part of the paintings, as if they were there in the flesh. An example of this is in the last few lines, “Reflectively, taking a view of Delft / As it was, under a wide and darkening sky” (23-24, Nemerov).
The scene is spoken about as though time is moving within it; as though the onlookers are experiencing the storm rolling in on Delft themselves. Much of the rest of the second stanza is also dedicated to small details of the paintings that make the imagery very particular, as though the reader can see the details themselves. Ultimately, the poem “Vermeer” by Howard Nemerov is a guided pathway through Vermeer paintings. The poem does well in leading the reader through the world Vermeer had created throughout his paintings. The purpose of the poem was to paint a scene and tell a story, and that was achieved through use of specific diction, hidden double meanings in imagery, and the transition of outside the paintings to inside them. In conclusion, art like Vermeer’s can further be heightened in writing like Nemerov’s, and in this instance poetry and painting go hand in hand to create a beautiful poem.
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