Candle Hat Poem by Billy Collins

Candle Hat

Rating: 3.7

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

Susan Williams 19 December 2015

Isn't it fun to treat famous creative people like they're just another human being only running amuk with talent and ingenuity!

30 1 Reply
Luke Johnson 15 December 2009

Collins reminds me of Walter Matheau. His dry humor is insatiable.

15 13 Reply
Michael Gale 09 April 2009

Imagine what would have happened as he walked through his house and had accidently got too close to a window drapery, or perhaps a Christmas Tree too old and dried out around Christmas time. Great poem Mr. Collins. God bless us all-MJG.

17 10 Reply
Eiz Qarqash 03 June 2012

This poem is second to none. It's the first poem I read for Mr. Collins and it's the best poem ever. As I read it, I'd just start wondering where Mr. Collins got all that creativity from.

16 11 Reply

This is such a brilliant piece of perception, Collins captures the majick playfulnes of Goya's self-portrait with the same sense of mirth that is held by Goya on his own face. Time for some studying and imitation...

16 8 Reply
Larry Lynch 05 March 2021

The dripping of melted candlewax must have burned his gown and shoulders. That is artistic dedication.

0 0 Reply
Khairul Ahsan 29 September 2020

Imaginations at its peak! 'You can only wonder what it would be like to be wearing such a chandelier on your head as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.' - What an imaginative idea! Brilliant!

0 0 Reply
Mahtab Bangalee 29 September 2020

illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.....imagine thru this candle hat the life of past, the life of conjugal happiness, the life of lost friendship; imagine the happiest moment of life thru this candle hat with the birthday smiling- it will be last shelter center of nowadays life; beautiful poem shared; I enjoyed

0 0 Reply
Savita Tyagi 29 September 2020

Ok I found the picture of Goya with his hat. Definitely very creative! Like today’s mine workers having light on their helmets. Times change but human genius always moving forward.

0 0 Reply
Savita Tyagi 29 September 2020

I would have to search the Internet to find that picture of Goya to decide it’s not just Billy Collins imagination. In today’s world this hat would be called a fire hazard! The world is different now. But if Goya really had a hat like that I would admire this creative genius even more.

0 0 Reply
Error Success