Georges Braque Bottle and Fishes 1910
Georges Braque 'Bottle and Fishes' 1910

The Miracle of
the Bottle and the Fishes

 Charles Tomlinson


I

What is it Braque
would have us see in this
piled-up table-top of his?

One might even take it for
a cliff-side, sky-high
accumulation opening door on door

of space. We do not know
with precision or at a glance
which is space and which is substance,

nor should we yet: the eye must stitch
each half-seen, separate
identity together

in a mind delighted and disordered by
a freshness of the world's own weather.


II

To enter space anew:
to enter a new space
inch by inch and not
the perspective avenue

cutting a swathe through mastered distance
from a viewpoint that is single:
'If you painted nothing but profiles
you would grow to believe
men have only one eye.'
Touch must supply
space with its substance and become
a material of the exploration
as palpable as paint,
in a reciprocation where
things no longer stand
bounded by emptiness: 'I begin,'
he says, 'with the background
that supports the picture
like the foundation of a house.'


III

These layered darknesses
project no image of a mind
in collusion with its specters:
in this debate
of shadow and illumination fate
does not hang heavily
over an uncertain year
(it is nineteen-twelve) for the eye
leaves fate undone
refusing to travel straitened
by either mood or taken measure:
it must stumble, it must touch
to guess how much of space
for all its wilderness
is both honeycomb and home.

Georges Braque Bottle and Fishes 1941
Georges Braque 'Bottle and Fishes' 1941

Charles TTomlinson was born in Stoke-onTrent, educated at Cambridge, and is an Emeritus Professor of Bristol Univerity. He has published eighteen books of poetry with Oxford University Press, most recently Annunciations (1989) and The Door in the Wall (1992) Eden (Redcliffe Press), a collection of poems and graphics, appeared in 1985 and the paperback edition of Collected Poems in 1987. Keele University have recorded all his published verse on cassette; three selections from it and a reading of Eliot's The Wasteland are also available.