De Aardappeleters (1885)
Five figures from three generation, out of the three females
a girl sits, her back towards the artist. Two small windows
display the darkness of evening. Eight rafters run from back
to front. The ouders sit on high backed chairs with raffia woven
seats. Oma schenkt koffie in – Grandma pours coffee. Opa holds
out his cup over a table worn rough at the edges. A lamp shines
on vapour rising from a meal of aardappelen. The family scoop,
from a common bowl, towards themselves, with spoons turned
upside down. Mevrouw stares past her man, an arbeider with cap;
wide eyed she ponders why the artist finds interest enough to paint.
Hands presented as lumpy, an accent on the joints; faces, and noses
scribed with a bulbous characterisation. Two small luxuries evident
in light and ersatz coffee; such poverty: no piano, no colour, no caged
bird to sing, no literature to enthral, no Bible to comfort, lone painting
on the wall. He records their small food reserves: dried herbs and ham
hocks curing from the ceiling. They pose awkwardly for their pastor,
He captures the roughness of their home spun clothes. We presume
their clothing clean, washed in a brook, we can almost smell the lye
soap. Later in his short life he changes to primary colours,
worked with abandon, with whirls and daring strokes until
entrance of those crows that cross his wheat field sky.
by Ieuan ap Hywel. An earlier version of this poem won the May 2016 IBPC.
Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic poems carefully conveys not just the painted scene, but the intent behind the picture. Van Gogh’s fascination with this particular painting is nearly as fascinating as the work itself. Click here to see the painting.