El Greco: a series by Martin Burke

Red and blue flames form the Virgin’s dress where the sky is afraid yet joy abounds among the demos of the airy kingdoms

For such as this earth will shudder (in joy and the terror of joy)

And shudder through the spine of history as if a volt was travelling on the DNA of our being and fire alone was pleasing

The paint is laid in shock-waves where black is not afraid to be black

What is annunciated is ascension, what is enunciated is reply


This dream, this quake of creation at the engulfing whale – who would have it on the pallet of his mind’s possibilities?

Sombre tones and brightness vie to no clear outcome

This is not other than what we are cast against

Alpha or Omega

His eye steady above the quaking of the world


This landscape – where is its like? and yet it’s real, not imagined nor superimposed on an unresponsive background

Again red and blue but muted now as befits the terrible occurrence

Yet a strange serenity, somewhat beguiling, pervades the air and earth and we are beguiled

And the thickly painted clouds

And the sleeping disciples

Yes, we are beguiled to attend this scene and what it is prelude to

Beguiled, we are beguiled, and yet we opt to sleep like figures who choose not to know what they know

The blue air is tinged with sorrow and grief which even the yellow robed one cannot dispel


And here the city hunkers down under the disorderly sky

Strong ramparts and lush fields blend to as if the fields had no option but to give birth to the city

The scene is Spanish but the judgement is Greek

And judgement it is

The sky breaks in several directions

There is not a solitary figure to be seen

It is morning or evening or the meeting of both as only a painter could see it where the eye is poetry’s eye seeing the seen, the not-seen, the linking bridge between them


This is not the whore of history – this is woman in serene ecstasy

Death’s skull is near-by but this is not death

Leaves grow from rock to attest the greening ground


It cannot be told – the seal is broken but it cannot be told

This is dance or despair

Again the red and the blue, again the uncomforting-giving yellow

They transfixed – I transfixed (before it)

The sky all-turbulence and the earth cannot respond

The broken seal breaks open with possibilities for the mind

Choose one for the moment – choose another for the moment to come


What does the Burial of the Count of Orgaz tell us about Guernica?

It tells us death is various multi-faced, a salvation or damnation, but that it is always death

That bombs descend as quick as saints but not to the same intent

That heaven and hell exist on earth as they no doubt do in whatever heaven or hell is there for our credulity or disbelief

That for every mending there is a shattering

That the cry of man or beast in pain is the self-same howl

That the world may be fractured beyond repair

That every weight has its counter-weight, echo its counter-echo, that of both there are believers and doubters

That the world breaks down under the weight of hate but rises by the yeast of love

That sorrow is endless and ancient and new

That we are also shattered birds with broken feathers

That what we see in colour is also possible in black and white and gray

That Spain is our crucible (if we be Greek enough to see it)

That whatever seeps into the earth colours the earth and daubs our eyes with its tints

That what has happened before will happen again and already, somewhere, is


And the View of Toledo – where do we place this, not just in history but within the liniments of ourselves?

Ah yes, the indefinable answer because no answer is final

The colours accusing and consoling

The sky telling of things which are and which will be

The various greens and the various blues

The absence of a single figure – the singular one I expect to see on the ridge whenever I see this painting

The swath of clouds befitting the St Francis series

The judgement and the challenge

The fierce pride of execution and the serenity of achievement

The painting contradicting then reconciling itself to itself

Nor passive observation permitted

The spontaneous cry of the eye which says City my city

The answering voice which says Yes!


And in the Disrobing of Christ we are all rendered naked

Nor do we understand the Breaking of the Fifth Seal (no more than we do the preceding four)

For we are, again, where we ever will be – on the ridge above Toledo seeking Toledo light

Martin Burke was born in Ireland (Limerick) but lives now in Flanders (The Northern Flemish speaking area of Belgium) from where he has published a number of books with small presses in Ireland, the UK, USA, and Belgium. Recent work has or is due to appear in Agenda (London) New Irish Writing; Poetry Ireland.

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