Celebrating National Poetry Month at The Phillips Collection: Part III

George Inness, Lake Albano, 1869. Oil on canvas. 30 3/8 x 45 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection

Last December, we had the honor of listening to one of America’s greatest living poets, Dana Gioia, weave his baritone voice and wonderful words here at the museum. His poem Places to Return from the collection of poems The Gods of Winter (1991) makes me think of many artists and paintings in The Phillips Collection. I find that the beauty rendered in his poem evokes the perceptive quality of a painter’s visual interpretation of landscape and memory.

Places to Return

There are landscapes one can own,
bright rooms which look out to the sea,
tall houses where beyond the window
day after day the same dark river
turns slowly through the hills, and there
are homesteads perched on mountaintops
whose cool white caps outlast the spring.

And there are other places which,
although we did not stay for long,
stick in the mind and call us back –
a valley visited one spring
where walking through an apple orchard
we breathed its blossoms with the air.
Return seems like a sacrament.

Then there are landscapes one has lost –
the brown hills circling a wide bay
I watched each afternoon one summer
talking to friends who are now dead.
I like to think I could go back again
and stand out on the balcony,
dizzy with a sense of déjà vu.

But coming up these steps to you
at just the moment when the moon,
magnificently full and bright
behind the lattice-work of clouds,
seems almost set upon the rooftops
it illuminates, how shall I
ever summon it again?


[i]  Used by permission from The Gods of Winter, Dana Gioia, Graywolf Press, St. Paul, 1991

Martín Paddack, Museum Shop Book Buyer

Read the first and second installments in Martín’s series for National Poetry Month.