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Landscape in France

I look again at Gauguin’s painting 
as my colorblind father might have
before he died, after sailing home
from the war in France : he sees some
of the yellow in those farms on the horizon,
and some of the blue in that small pond
any cow might drink from, but for him
every red and green is gone. Those grasses,
trees, and hills, and those patches of clay–
all a beige waste under skies too pale
for rainbows. And the one face, nearly hidden,
of the painting’s only figure, seems
bloodless to my father’s way of seeing,
camouflaged by that same grey ground
peasants put their spades to — death
that Gauguin, sunstruck on his island,
thought he could leave behind.
This poem was inspired by images on a website about colorblindness : two reproductions of the painting Landscape at Pouldu by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). One reproduction presents the painting as a normal-sighted viewer sees it ; another reproduction presents the painting as a colorblind viewer sees it. This poem is one in a suite of four poems I wrote about colorblindness.
This poem benefited from the feedback of members of Thomas Lux’s workshop at the 2009 Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Thanks to Linda A. of that workshop for suggesting the word “horizon.”
My goal when composing any poem is to craft a passage of spoken language in which the sound is at least as alluring as the sense. For details, see the comment box beneath this blog entry.
This poem is more fact than fiction. For details, see the comment box beneath this blog entry.

About ThereseLBroderick

Independent community poet living in Albany, New York USA.

One response »

  1. Therese (Frank's wife)


    My goal when composing any poem is to craft a passage of spoken language in which sound is at least as alluring as sense.


    I added the word “again” to the first line primarily for its sound, for how it sounds nearby “Gauguin’s painting.” I added it also in order to create just enough tension so that the reader is lured to the second line in order to find out a reason for looking “again.”

    I included the phrase “any cow might drink from” to add syllables to its line, and also for the sound echoes between “from” and the repeated “some.”

    I chose “figure” (rather than “farmer” or “peasant”) for how it worked within hearing recall of the words “distant” and “grey ground.”

    I chose “bloodless to the colorblind” (rather than “bloodless to my father”) for the “uh” in both words.

    Most of the other decisions I made in this poem about sound are related to the cadence of entire phrases, to the poem’s flow when read aloud.


    In this poem I describe how a vibrantly-colored landscape looks to someone who can’t see those colors. A person may not be able to see those colors in a literal sense because he’s physically colorblind. Or, a person may not be able to see them in a metaphorical sense because he’s blinded by war and death. When you return through art to a place where you once fought a battle, what do you see: the painting? or your memory of combat? or both?

    I use “colorblind” for its accuracy (my father was indeed colorblind) but also for the connotations of “blind” (Gauguin was blind to some of his family responsibilities).

    I don’t know if my father flew home or sailed home from Europe. I decided to use “shipping” because it has additional relevance to Gauguin’s long ocean voyages back and forth from Europe to Pacific islands. In part, I use “rainbows” for a similar reason : to make a connection between my father’s experience in France and Gauguin’s tropical experience in Tahiti.

    I use the word “camouflage” for its factual relevance to both war and to colorblindness (some colorblind soldiers can see through camouflage that color-normal soldiers cannot).

    I use “sunstruck” in both literal and metaphorical senses : Tahiti is full of sun, and Gauguin was full of idealistic illusions about how perfect life would be on a primitive island paradise.


    When preparing to write this poem, I read a few short books about Gauguin, and a book about colorblindness. I browsed some websites about Gauguin and about colorblindness. I asked my mother some questions about my father’s colorblindness (he died in 1981).

    Most details in this poem are factual : colorblind people like my father do have trouble seeing reds, greens, rainbows, and the flush of people’s faces. The details of the painting are accurate, to the extent that I could make out the details (such as the distant figure) on the small website image.


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