As Parmigianino did it, the right hand Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer And swerving easily away, as though to protect What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams, Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together In a movement supporting the face, which swims Toward and away like the hand Except that it is in repose. It is what is Sequestered. Vasari says, "Francesco one day set himself To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . . He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made By a turner, and having divided it in half and Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass," Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection once removed. The glass chose to reflect only what he saw Which was enough for his purpose: his image Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle. The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival. The soul establishes itself. But how far can it swim out through the eyes And still return safely to its nest? The surface Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases Significantly; that is, enough to make the point That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept In suspension, unable to advance much farther Than your look as it intercepts the picture. Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied" By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is, Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane, The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind, Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay Posing in this place. It must move As little as possible. This is what the portrait says. But there is in that gaze a combination Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful In its restraint that one cannot look for long. The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts, Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul, Has no secret, is small, and it fits Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention. That is the tune but there are no words. The words are only speculation (From the Latin speculum, mirror): They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music. We see only postures of the dream, Riders of the motion that swings the face Into view under evening skies, with no False disarray as proof of authenticity. But it is life englobed. One would like to stick one's hand Out of the globe, but its dimension, What carries it, will not allow it. No doubt it is this, not the reflex To hide something, which makes the hand loom large As it retreats slightly. There is no way To build it flat like a section of wall: It must join the segment of a circle, Roving back to the body of which it seems So unlikely a part, to fence in and shore up the face On which the effort of this condition reads Like a pinpoint of a smile, a spark Or star one is not sure of having seen As darkness resumes. A perverse light whose Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its Conceit to light up: unimportant but meant. Francesco, your hand is big enough To wreck the sphere, and too big, One would think, to weave delicate meshes That only argue its further detention. (Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale, Like a dozing whale on the sea bottom In relation to the tiny, self-important ship On the surface.) But your eyes proclaim That everything is surface. The surface is what's there And nothing can exist except what's there. There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves, And the window doesn't matter much, or that Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even As a gauge of the weather, which in French is Le temps, the word for time, and which Follows a course wherein changes are merely Features of the whole. The whole is stable within Instability, a globe like ours, resting On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball Secure on its jet of water. And just as there are no words for the surface, that is, No words to say what it really is, that it is not Superficial but a visible core, then there is No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience. You will stay on, restive, serene in Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning But which holds something of both in pure Affirmation that doesn't affirm anything.
The balloon pops, the attention Turns dully away. Clouds In the puddle stir up into sawtoothed fragments. I think of the friends Who came to see me, of what yesterday Was like. A peculiar slant Of memory that intrudes on the dreaming model In the silence of the studio as he considers Lifting the pencil to the self-portrait. How many people came and stayed a certain time, Uttered light or dark speech that became part of you Like light behind windblown fog and sand, Filtered and influenced by it, until no part Remains that is surely you. Those voices in the dusk Have told you all and still the tale goes on In the form of memories deposited in irregular Clumps of crystals. Whose curved hand controls, Francesco, the turning seasons and the thoughts That peel off and fly away at breathless speeds Like the last stubborn leaves ripped From wet branches? I see in this only the chaos Of your round mirror which organizes everything Around the polestar of your eyes which are empty, Know nothing, dream but reveal nothing. I feel the carousel starting slowly And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books, Photographs of friends, the window and the trees Merging in one neutral band that surrounds Me on all sides, everywhere I look. And I cannot explain the action of leveling, Why it should all boil down to one Uniform substance, a magma of interiors. My guide in these matters is your self, Firm, oblique, accepting everything with the same Wraith of a smile, and as time speeds up so that it is soon Much later, I can know only the straight way out, The distance between us. Long ago The strewn evidence meant something, The small accidents and pleasures Of the day as it moved gracelessly on, A housewife doing chores. Impossible now To restore those properties in the silver blur that is The record of what you accomplished by sitting down "With great art to copy all that you saw in the glass" So as to perfect and rule out the extraneous Forever. In the circle of your intentions certain spars Remain that perpetuate the enchantment of self with self: Eyebeams, muslin, coral. It doesn't matter Because these are things as they are today Before one's shadow ever grew Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.
Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted, Desolate, reluctant as any landscape To yield what are laws of perspective After all only to the painter's deep Mistrust, a weak instrument though Necessary. Of course some things Are possible, it knows, but it doesn't know Which ones. Some day we will try To do as many things as are possible And perhaps we shall succeed at a handful Of them, but this will not have anything To do with what is promised today, our Landscape sweeping out from us to disappear On the horizon. Today enough of a cover burnishes To keep the supposition of promises together In one piece of surface, letting one ramble Back home from them so that these Even stronger possibilities can remain Whole without being tested. Actually The skin of the bubble-chamber's as tough as Reptile eggs; everything gets "programmed" there In due course: more keeps getting included Without adding to the sum, and just as one Gets accustomed to a noise that Kept one awake but now no longer does, So the room contains this flow like an hourglass Without varying in climate or quality (Except perhaps to brighten bleakly and almost Invisibly, in a focus sharpening toward death--more Of this later). What should be the vacuum of a dream Becomes continually replete as the source of dreams Is being tapped so that this one dream May wax, flourish like a cabbage rose, Defying sumptuary laws, leaving us To awake and try to begin living in what Has now become a slum. Sydney Freedberg in his Parmigianino says of it: "Realism in this portrait No longer produces and objective truth, but a bizarria . . . . However its distortion does not create A feeling of disharmony . . . . The forms retain A strong measure of ideal beauty," because Fed by our dreams, so inconsequential until one day We notice the hole they left. Now their importance If not their meaning is plain. They were to nourish A dream which includes them all, as they are Finally reversed in the accumulating mirror. They seemed strange because we couldn't actually see them. And we realize this only at a point where they lapse Like a wave breaking on a rock, giving up Its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape. The forms retain a strong measure of ideal beauty As they forage in secret on our idea of distortion. Why be unhappy with this arrangement, since Dreams prolong us as they are absorbed? Something like living occurs, a movement Out of the dream into its codification.
As I start to forget it It presents its stereotype again But it is an unfamiliar stereotype, the face Riding at anchor, issued from hazards, soon To accost others, "rather angel than man" (Vasari). Perhaps an angel looks like everything We have forgotten, I mean forgotten Things that don't seem familiar when We meet them again, lost beyond telling, Which were ours once. This would be the point Of invading the privacy of this man who "Dabbled in alchemy, but whose wish Here was not to examine the subtleties of art In a detached, scientific spirit: he wished through them To impart the sense of novelty and amazement to the spectator" (Freedberg). Later portraits such as the Uffizi "Gentleman," the Borghese "Young Prelate" and The Naples "Antea" issue from Mannerist Tensions, but here, as Freedberg points out, The surprise, the tension are in the concept Rather than its realization. The consonance of the High Renaissance Is present, though distorted by the mirror. What is novel is the extreme care in rendering The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface (It is the first mirror portrait), So that you could be fooled for a moment Before you realize the reflection Isn't yours. You feel then like one of those Hoffmann characters who have been deprived Of a reflection, except that the whole of me Is seen to be supplanted by the strict Otherness of the painter in his Other room. We have surprised him At work, but no, he has surprised us As he works. The picture is almost finished, The surprise almost over, as when one looks out, Startled by a snowfall which even now is Ending in specks and sparkles of snow. It happened while you were inside, asleep, And there is no reason why you should have Been awake for it, except that the day Is ending and it will be hard for you To get to sleep tonight, at least until late.
The shadow of the city injects its own Urgency: Rome where Francesco Was at work during the Sack: his inventions Amazed the soldiers who burst in on him; They decided to spare his life, but he left soon after; Vienna where the painting is today, where I saw it with Pierre in the summer of 1959; New York Where I am now, which is a logarithm Of other cities. Our landscape Is alive with filiations, shuttlings; Business is carried on by look, gesture, Hearsay. It is another life to the city, The backing of the looking glass of the Unidentified but precisely sketched studio. It wants To siphon off the life of the studio, deflate Its mapped space to enactments, island it. That operation has been temporarily stalled But something new is on the way, a new preciosity In the wind. Can you stand it, Francesco? Are you strong enough for it? This wind brings what it knows not, is Self--propelled, blind, has no notion Of itself. It is inertia that once Acknowledged saps all activity, secret or public: Whispers of the word that can't be understood But can be felt, a chill, a blight Moving outward along the capes and peninsulas Of your nervures and so to the archipelagoes And to the bathed, aired secrecy of the open sea. This is its negative side. Its positive side is Making you notice life and the stresses That only seemed to go away, but now, As this new mode questions, are seen to be Hastening out of style. If they are to become classics They must decide which side they are on. Their reticence has undermined The urban scenery, made its ambiguities Look willful and tired, the games of an old man. What we need now is this unlikely Challenger pounding on the gates of an amazed Castle. Your argument, Francesco, Had begun to grow stale as no answer Or answers were forthcoming. If it dissolves now Into dust, that only means its time had come Some time ago, but look now, and listen: It may be that another life is stocked there In recesses no one knew of; that it, Not we, are the change; that we are in fact it If we could get back to it, relive some of the way It looked, turn our faces to the globe as it sets And still be coming out all right: Nerves normal, breath normal. Since it is a metaphor Made to include us, we are a part of it and Can live in it as in fact we have done, Only leaving our minds bare for questioning We now see will not take place at random But in an orderly way that means to menace Nobody--the normal way things are done, Like the concentric growing up of days Around a life: correctly, if you think about it.