The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 4 no. 1


Baron Wormser

Homage to Thomas Eakins


Social rectitude hoped as always to
Correct the signs of physical reality;
More than one portrait was returned promptly—
This art of wrinkles and sagging skin
Strained the limits of moneyed grace.
The man lived in a principled whim.

Too much occurred to a face in a lifetime,
He might have protested. The years are not
Water-smooth. Even at our rest we labor.
The truth, however, went deeper than laments.
A diviner with brushes, he could predict
What is—the musculature of breath, scent of death
Like too-sweet flowers in a light-struck room.

He could accept such facts and give them praise
In all their local diversity: notable
Pose, athletic pastime, reverie, even
The surgeon's brute, dispassionate tact.

In his hometown there were no counter-salons
Or promises of bohemian paradise.
No visual crisis was present.
There were only the outskirts of clarity,
The chastening attempts to get it right.

What the age demanded was an image
Of action, the confident empire of man,
The consoling regard of the shadow female.
Marble anthems vouched for chaste perfection.

In Camden, Eakins recorded the poet Whitman—
Serenely human, at ease with tragedy.
There never was an idea equal to flesh.
The sum of all our sanctioned errands
Falls short of our vital negligence.