Tuesday Poem – Virgin Annunciate, Bernardo Cavallino by Catherine Bateson

(for Matt Ottley)

In the rooms devoted to god ‒
icons, a reliquary casket, Pietàs ‒
the dense energy of the wooden robes
subdued by downcast piety ‒
we saw her. Virgin Annunciate, Seventeenth Century.

She kneels into the absent angel’s light
hands winged across her heart.
Her anxious young face
is not entirely humble
And why should she be?

I’ve seen her a thousand times in libraries,
classrooms, cafes and bars.
In a minute she’ll turn to us
with a shrug having said yes
to whatever it was that was offered.
Resolute. Still yearning.

We had been talking about death ‒
but even though we knew the end of the story ‒
she was all life ‒ vivid, troubled,
beautiful. Saying
yes, after all.



Author’s Comment: ‘Matt Ottley, a colleague and collaborator, and I were walking through an exhibition of religious art at the National Gallery of Victoria. We were becoming increasingly blasé about each new crucifixion scene when we turned into yet another room and there was Cavallino’s Annunciation. The Virgin was so real, so contemporary. It’s a haunting painting, edged with anxiety rather than ecstasy, but so alive. Just beautiful.’

Thanks Catherine for permission to publish this poem. ‘Virgin Annunciate’ was first published in The Canberra Times, 15/3/14

Catherine Bateson
Catherine Bateson photographed on a visit to Yorkshire

Helen says: I am fascinated by the connection between art as in painting sculpture etc. and poetry. Poets and artists are both observers of their surroundings  and those who inhabit them. Both constantly looking for new ways to show what they see. And in this case the poet is observing the results of the artists observations. Getting a bit complex? Yes indeed. Where did the artists observations come from?  Probably years of gathered perceptions about the Virgin Mary amongst other things. But and this is where it gets interesting. In the above poem, Cavallino’s work has joined the outer world. Catherine has become the observer and interpreter. ‘I’ve seen her a thousand times in libraries, classrooms, cafes and bars’. She has used  words to connect us to the painting,to Mary, the Virgin Annunciate. And it’s the words that bring Mary to our own human level and/or connect her to the divine in us.

Author’s Bio in Brief:  Catherine Bateson is an award-winning poet and writer for children and young adults. Her last poetry collection, Marriage for Beginners, was published by John Leonard Press.  One reviewer had this to say ‘Love poem’ manages to find a balance between the rhapsody and comfort of an enduring partnership. Perhaps the success of these poems, and so many others in the collection, can be attributed to the personal nature of the narrative and thus the emotion captured, both raw and pulsing. . . Marriage for beginners is a gift. If I read ‘Sailing on the grey’ after breakfast, lunch and dinner, it wouldn’t be enough. More here.

Catherine is also a member of the Tuesday Poem Blog where she is found most weeks. You can visit her own blog at Catty reads, Catty Writes   For more about her writing for children and young adults go to her website here.

And here below is a photo of the mysterious painting, The Virgin Annunciate by Bernardo Cavallino, (1616 -1656).


The Virigin Anunciate by Bernardo Cavallino
The Virgin Annunciate by Bernardo Cavallino

And now let’s return to the Tuesday Poem Hub page where Kathleen Jones is this week’s editor with another ephrastic poem, this time by Riemke Ensing