Water Lilies, 1907
by Theodora Goss
When he painted them,
was he tired? Did he have to brush away
a hovering dragonfly?
You can tell he loved the water,
because the painting is not of lilies
but of water in which lilies
happen to be floating. That is why
the lilies are just smears of pink and white
on the green leaves. And he loved not the leaves
themselves but their shadows. It is the water
on which he spent all his time:
how many different tubes of paint
it took, how much mixing, to represent
the way trees are reflected in it,
or the sky, or clouds in the sky.
The water, purple and green and blue,
is more beautiful than the flowers.
And most beautiful of all
is the light falling on the water,
the leaves, the flowers —
the light that was his great subject,
its presence always implied.
Did his back hurt? After a while
did he realize he was hungry,
that it was time for lunch?
What we are left with is a fragment
of the experience, framed:
shadows on the water,
a memory of light.
As though we were the dragonfly,
Or perhaps the lilies, beautiful
and indistinct, perched
on what is real.
(The painting is, of course, Water Lilies by Claude Monet. It’s the painting that inspired this poem . . .)