E. J. Walsingham

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14Jan19

Portrait Palimpsest

In the early hours of this morning, Zaffar Kunial was interviewed on Radio 4 Extra's Poetry Extra. One of the poems he read and described dealt with his difficult relationship with Shakespeare and how looking at a portrait of The Bard and seeing his own image reflected on the glass helped. I think he said that this happened in the National Portrait Gallery. It occurs to me to attend the gallery and lurk in search of apt combinations of subject and viewer.

The poem is The Lyric Eye. It was the Chandos portrait in the NPG. I cannot find the poem online or to buy, I'll try to transcribe it before the recording disappears after a month online.

Here's that segment of the program,

and my transcript.

The Lyric Eye, Zaffar Kunial
I've stood at your portrait at different times
Clocked my own face now and then in the glass
a cloud eclipsed, vaguely before, or behind you.
Half-cast , at a loss,
even the gloss, back then, at school, left me looking this blank
in the dark, not on the same page as you.
But when I stand
here
almost in a blink, I can place my eyes glazed over your stare.
Let you lend me your ear, your famous cheek,
let the flare of your nostril stretch thin air ,
even try on your earring from five feet.
Four (?) centuries apart, I swear, by this lapse
the light on you mouth seems cast half on mine
when I borrow the line between you lips.

Kunial explains this word in the broadcast before reading the poem.

By gum, there's some clever wordplay in there.

It is always interesting (sometimes amusing, sometimes embarrassing) to compare one's own transcription of a poem to the real thing. I struggle with capitalisation and normally I avoid punctuation in such exercises, but Kunial's delivery is unconventional and those commas are needed, as is the spacing for "But when I stand / here / almost in a blink".


Willmott Dixon

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