Odilon Redon at the Musee d’Orsay

Pastels, early 1900s

Part of the mystery
is in the room itself,
darkened and set apart;
the works set apart again
behind glass; the atmosphere
regulated; a universe
delineated—captured space
with separate natural laws.

So it is that Apollo’s white horses,
broad and muscular,
can rise like clouds across the sky;
so it is
that a frail old man
stands earthbound,
burdened with wings.

In this world, matter
is created and destroyed
by the gesture of a hand,
stasis made vivid,
ashes to charcoal, dust to light,
a light so real
it escapes its wooden frame
and infuses the room like a mist—

Like the filtered light
of this brilliant stained-glass window,
deep blue and gold
and casting its glow
in a somber charcoal church,
the bright glass lit
by artifice, from behind,
by a hidden sun—

In another frame,
it makes bright a distant landscape:
a candescent world
of blue and earthy green,
shimmering with gold,
and Buddha stands serene,
hand open, inward-looking,
signaling what is everywhere—

This golden light,
these bits of gold leaf
peeling like bark from a tree,
caught on the wind, in the air;
they spread to the gold-leaf frame
and into the darkened room,
swirl through the light and shadows,
settle in the patrons’ hair.

This poem first appeared in Notre Dame Review Number 16, Summer 2003. Many images of Redon’s work are available online at The-Athenaeum.org.