Viewing Monet’s “Rouen Cathedral, Morning Sun, West Facade”

June 2015

This is not the cathedral, soleil matinal. This is not
the western portal. Up close it is paint, thick-coated or brushed flat,
transferred from his palate of creams and saffrons and persimmons
and muffled blue, as though a stream descending

from some higher ground happy in its purity
is forked by an island of clays—mustards and reds—obstinate,
insistent on its own reality. The island makes its point
upstream, but as the blue slides by and down

the argument seems less clear:
on the right still blue and pure while on the left
a kind of mingling of reasons blends to lavender.
The chalk-white on the right sits in judgment until

it too is drawn into the fray, and yields to blues and mustards.
This is not a cathedral door in sunlight and shadow,
nor a clay-cut stream. It is paint, thick-coated or brushed flat and
transferred from his palate of creams and saffrons and persimmons

and muffled blue. But step back, and he convinces you
of columns and arches upon arches, spire and
massive towers reaching, framing an eternal azure sky
as though heaven itself is bounded by their claims,

of dark alcoves between stone pillars ablaze in reflected glory,
of a door, part shadow and part light, promising within
solace without sentimentality, absolution without apology,
of a spirit that blends the argument of colors into truth,

and of a tiny Christ atop the western portal extending
the invitation to create with him a cathedral of the soul,
stretched on the imagination, made of paint thick-coated or brushed flat,
transferred from his palate of creams and saffrons and persimmons

and muffled blue.

[A friend shared with me an extreme close-up photograph of the door in Monet’s “soleil matinal” rendering of the western facade of Rouen Cathedral.  I was struck with how Monet’s apparently haphazard way of applying paint to canvas, viewed up close, becomes a cognitive whole when viewed at a short remove, and how we participate–as though by faith–in the creation of the image Monet suggests. That was on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, nine people were shot to death in Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC; their only offense was the color of their skin. It occurred to me sometime later that the final line in the penultimate stanza may have contained meanings I did not anticipate. PKH]