Tag Archives: Vienna

Hunters on the Hill

One year ago I received an email in Dutch from poet Elsa Fischer. She had read my second collection and related to the poems about the Second World War. Elsa and I have kept in touch by email. Her poems were featured here on 24 May 2020 – the end of that month we were going to meet in person in The Hague …

A 1,000-piece jigsaw of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Hunters on the Hill is waiting in the hall – a present for a friend. Seeing it there reminded me that Elsa and I have both written a poem inspired by that painting from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. On its website you can see all the works by Bruegel that still exist from their 2018 exhibition.

Jonathan McAloon published a fascinating article on Artsy “The Deadly Truth Behind Pieter Bruegel Elder’s Idyllic Landscapes” (4/2/2019). The winter of 1564-65 was the coldest winter of the century. Europe was living in what’s now called the “Little Ice Age”. It would be so cold that rivers froze enough for local people to have rent-free marketplaces on them. Frozen birds fell from the sky, people could enjoy themselves skating. There were also food shortages, resulting in illness and riots.

Elsa’s poem Hunters was published in the journal Poetry Salzburg Review. Mine is in the pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020). We’ve both taken the viewpoint of someone in the landscape.

Hunters

I’ve come to feast again on Flemish grotesque
at the peasant wedding and Shrove Tuesday’s kermis.

To watch the hunters as they bring in the kill,
the trails of blood not far from where I stand

for cover. I hear branches and shrubs and ice
breaking and feel no pity until the knives release

a medieval agony of entrails, shimmering,
steaming, on to the floor of the estaminet.

The heady beer explodes, the pissoir smells.
I grab a cue at the billiard table. I am seventeen.

Piercing the cold like the crow’s flight I escape
into the northern twilight, away from memories.

In a far corner

It is a clear afternoon.
I hear children laughing,
the clacking of skittles,
skates carving the ice.

I know it is Friday and hear
the silence of crows.
My bones are strong,
my wife is in good health.

I do not yet know that
on the hill the hunters
with their wet and tired dogs
are heading for home.

I think about my wife,
heavy with child, her apron
as white as the snow
under my feet.

I see plumes of breath from my lips,
as though I’m a horse with plough.
Branches on my shoulder creak, shudder.
I’m yoked to this life.

The Vienna of Sigmund Freud

 

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In November 1994 my friend Wendy and I flew to Vienna, with Niki Lauder’s airline. She had asked me to come for moral support, as she wanted to look at the houses where her parents had been born and lived. They were Jewish and had both left Vienna before the war, meeting in Manchester where they married and changed their name from Grünewald to Greenwood.

Wendy and I visited the Freud Museum together. My poem The Vienna of Sigmund Freud was awarded the second prize in the 2012 Marple International Poetry Competition. On the Saturday morning my friend went back to one of the houses and I went to the birthplace of the composer Franz Schubert. I expected crowds, but I was alone with a protective attendant.

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Wendy being awarded first prize in the 2000 Sale Photographic Society

 

During his short career, less than 20 years, Schubert composed a vast amount of music: over 600 vocal works, seven symphonies, piano and chamber music. He died in 1828, aged 31. My friend Wendy died in April 2000, aged 52. Litany for All Soul’s Day is one of Schubert’s best-known songs: Alle Seelen Ruhn in Frieden! All souls rest in peace!

 

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The Vienna of Sigmund Freud
(after Miroslav Holub)
This is where they rein in Lippizaner horses
and Schnitzler and Klimt shocked
and Hitler studied art.

And here an emporium reflects the cathedral.
Here they debate the merits of Sachertorte
and mature women wear hats with feathers.

This is where Freud analysed the disturbed
and the distressed sat in his red waiting room,
this museum with a clean flag and frosted glass.

And here the U-Bahn stations are without graffiti.
Here the shoppers whisper silently
and pain starts when sounds die.

 

Nussdorferstrasse 54

Red geraniums in window boxes
brighten the wooden balcony.
Scattered leaves around the statue
of a shy, naked girl, perched on the edge.

I’d planned a rain-soaked pilgrimage:
wind howling in the chimney. Imagined
creaking stairs, the shadows of birds,
old beggars in swirling fog.

On polished floorboards I glide past
a clear and orderly arrangement of
manuscripts, paintings and prints.
The shiny keyboard waits.

Now the sun lights up his portrait.
Elbow resting on books, he holds a quill.
Franz Schubert smiles past me
at this trim, suburban scene.