"And that is why I paced the corridors
Of those great museums
Gazing at paintings of a world
In which David is blameless as a boy scout
Goliath earned his shameful death
While eternal twilight dims Rembrandt's canvases,
The twilight of anxiety and attention
And I passed from hall to hall
Admiring portraits of cynical cardinal
In Roman crimson
Ecstatic peasant weddings
Avid players of cards or dice
Observing ships of war and momentary truces
And that is why we paced the corridors
Of those renowned museums those celestial palaces
Trying to grasps Isaac's sacrifice
Mary's sorrow and bright skies above the Seine
And I went back to a city street
Where madness pain and laughter persisted -
-"And That Is Why" by Adam Zagajewski, from True Life, New York, Farrar. Straus and Giroux: 2023.
For Adam Zagajewski, the past is always present in everyday life and, as this poem eloquently lays out, nowhere is this fact more visible than in museums. The past isn't dead; it may not even be past.
The poet Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021) was born in Poland and died in Poland; however he lived in Berlin, then Germany, moved to France in 1982 and later taught at universities in the United States.
Image: Sophie Crespy - photograph of a gallery at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, courtesy of Grand Palais, Paris.