Kenneth Slessor

(27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971 / Orange, New South Wales)

Rubens' Hell


VENUS with rosy-cloven rump
And rings of straw-bright flying hair
Looks in the glass that slaves are plying
Not for her own face floating there,
But for the sly and curious gaze
Of Rubens, through the keyhole prying.
Warm flesh of gods, by light embayed,
And drifting daemon-bones within
That sweep like music up and down
To pouts and cups of ivory skin,
Firm-valleyed croup, and swagging arm
In whose embankment bracelets drown—
Do you remain, you strokes of paint,
With Venus mocked and Rubens dead
And Beauty sold for an antique
And microscopes raised up instead?
Still are your old adherents true;
Rubens is there, if he could speak.
Rubens is there in your high room,
Rubens it is who blows his breath
To fix you laughing in the glass,
Who keeps a castle here from death
While schools go out and fashions fall
And microscopes and movements pass.
This castle-keep of joys conceived
But never sucked is Rubens' hell,
Is Rubens' limbo, cut and won
From darkness. Here he comes to dwell.
Man's heaven is the place he builds
By thoughts imagined and things done.
Some choose a paradise of gas,
And some, by pious deeds below,
The heavenly butter-hatch for flunkeys;
Who dream of nought to nothing go.
Therefore I'd sooner Rubens' hell
Than go to heaven with the donkeys.

Submitted: Thursday, April 01, 2010

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