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New Poetry
April 2015

“The Presentation of the Virgin”, 1553-56, by Tintoretto


The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple

Tintoretto’s, in the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto, Venice

Over four hundred years and still this child
Has barely reached the twelfth step of the Temple,
Where she will learn to become the mother of God.

Every time the hopeful earth has recorded
Such moments of wish and the postponement of grace
This has been the case, and always will be.

The way is circuitous as the way must be:
The hemispherical sweep of the carven staircase
Ascends beyond and above us in tiers of marble.

We approach from the side, where practised mendicants,
Sellers of relics, street philosophers
And mothers in the corruption of their silks

(Too old themselves, too despairing, too comfortable
To take more than a worldly view of the matter)
Look up in attitudes of weariness, regret and emulation

At the solitary girl confronting the Elders,
With one raised knee, gathering her skirts
In a glow of gold from a stormy sunset.

They are the models of the material life,
The painter’s mute accomplices in flesh and gesture,
While she passes from her pigment into light,

The restored Ark of a new Covenant,
The human in its purest form, the young Eve
Returning to Eden, as the dove that dwelt there.


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