28 Oct 2023
Lady in Blue
After Picasso’s Buste de femme au voile bleu (1924)
‘Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangent’ *
from Virgil’s Aeneid (I. 462)
How to reach you beneath that tented blue?
You’ve pulled back into hollows where grief
pools in a steady drip, countenance grave
as you gaze out at shadows, eyes bleak
cinders after the blaze. You seem suffused
with the essence of Virgil’s tears for our brief
interval—its wars and flights and brave
resistance. Sadness visible. But its hue
has not fully tainted and turned your flesh:
where life’s lustre endures, mercy follows.
If we touched you, would we feel that warming,
that tenderness towards ghettos of distress?
Mortal madonna, lady of sorrows,
assume for us the stuff of our mourning.
Behind the poem...
Lady in Blue arose from a powerful emotional reaction I had to Picasso’s Buste de femme au voile bleu. This happened at the same time as I was revisiting Virgil’s Aeneid. I’ve long been beguiled by the melancholic ambiguity of Aeneas’s famous line – itself an ekphrastic response to temple friezes – which I translate as: *‘There are tears in the nature of things and mortal matters touch the mind’. Somehow, the portrait of an unnamed woman defined only by the colour of her veil became for me the embodiment of this line, which seems all too applicable to the current state of the world.