Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 16, 2013

Poetry about Another Work of Art

There’s an obscure (to me, at least) term for poetry about another work of art.  Keat’s Ode on A Grecian Urn is probably the most famous example of that genre.

The following poem is semi-autobiographical.  The guards wouldn’t, of course, let me physically handle an ancient jade carving in the Taiwan museum, so I imagined holding it to make the poetry more direct.

In the poem, musical terminology is frequently used to describe the jade carving, so words, sights, touch and sounds are incorporated.

The terracotta army, of course, exists in China.

Trio in Jade

“…O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
                   Yeats: Among School Children


His biography was never written
but I know a part of his life.
I have held it,
in both hands.

An etude in green,
cool against the flesh,
and, again to the eyes.
Verdant triple chromatics
in ancient jade.

In the unformed rock,
he saw counterpoints of color,
rhythms of texture
He infused himself
into the precious lumpy chunk.

From a vision of wit and elegance
emerged a celery stalk
with a single grasshopper
nibbling the leaves.

Ribs spring and curve upward,
carved from the milky, airy green
like a pale stain of grass
on the back of a court lady’s delicate hand.

Unheard melodies
sing in the clarity of line and
sweep in precise veins
bursting  to exuberant spray
of succulent leaves.
darker down the scale
stippled with pale citrine
along feathered edges.

Silently chewing,
the almost-emerald insect
-poised to leap with fat, folded thighs,
or fly on translucent wings
centers my senses.

Stroking soothing stone
-as a drowsy emperor in evening’s quiet-
my fingers sense the unknown artist’s music,
reaching through deeps of time
to an unimagined man.


The T’ang Emperor,
Ch’in Shih Huang Tie,
awash in stiff embroidered silks,
ruled the “pivotal Kingdom”
with grim and jealous power.

Enriching mystics and charlatans
in his search for the islands of immortality,
he dispatched imperial fleets,
riding low in the sea,
heavy with rich tribute
payment for the miraculous elixir of eternal life;
-ships that sailed forever into the dawn.

Dogged scholarship
and meticulous archeology
may brush away the mythic dust
and recover despotic artifacts.
Records of the imperial splendor,
and regiments of his terracotta army:
-helmeted warriors and arch-necked horses
standing dour guard
for more than two millennia
-over a looted grave.


The nameless artisan of jade
no doubt a vassal of the nobility
or a slave unknown past his mortality
His jade sang in my hands
just as Beethoven’s Archduke
sings to me from the next room.


  1. Nicely done, Thomas!

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