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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

3 - Sight and Song: Botticelli and ekphrastic paradox

Summary

Michael Field's next volume is also constructed around a fetish, of sorts, for Sight and Song is fuelled by a desire to produce poems which ‘translate’ paintings into words. Ekphrasis is itself an attempt to have mutually incompatible things simultaneously: to allow the poem to claim the static aspects of representation unique to the visual arts, but to do this through the dynamic nature of language. It is this paradox which Michael Field courts in the poems that make up Sight and Song.

At some level this paradox, like that seen in Long Ago, is founded on a Tiresian ambivalence between the genders. G. E. Lessing's influential study Laokoön gives us a system of oppositions between poetry and painting that subtly encodes a gender split. Influenced by Burke's essay on the sublime and the beautiful, Lessing believes paintings pleasure the eye in the way that women do, while poetry is a manly art of sublime eloquence. Given that Lessing's own father wrote a Latin thesis titled ‘de non commutando sexus habitu’ – ‘on the impropriety […] of women wearing men's clothes and men women's’ – it is difficult to keep issues of gender separate from these issues of artistic form. The ekphrastic project in Sight and Song is perhaps implicitly another statement of Bradley and Cooper's refusal to commit when faced with such a dichotomy.

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