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Musée

 

The old masters? Seldom wrong about anything,
never quite able to admit it when they were.

           Notice, please, the execution of the wretched figure

That, I suppose, is the most fraught disadvantage
in being master, especially an old one.

          all but veiled by chiaroscuro and the prominence

Still, when it came to suffering, they had the most
reliable perspective, compelling credentials.

          of the winged tormentors whose features nearly radiate

They came to it, as they came to everything else – 
practice, repetition, unwavering habit.

          with pleasure taken in such consummate facility

O, long before they seemed anything like masters
they had come to observe every human torment

         with the ivory hooks, and with the glinting, brazen,

as the fortunate occasion (they were masters)
for their most passionate renderings.

       long-shaft pikes with which they daub the matter near the
      
signature.


Scott Cairns

from Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems by Scott Cairns
reprinted with permission from the author