The Nymphs; Effigy

The Nymphs

Take, for instance, Fred McCubbin’s

“Summer Idyll, 1910”,

how he painted out the nymphs

and left the landscape only,

a bush scene in his favourite greens

open to the bay at Frankston.

A critic for the Argus wrote

the nymphs were a “discordant note”

against the painting’s “modern spirit”

and Fred, it would appear, agreed,

sending the discordant girls

back to Arcady forthwith

by way of the Renaissance,

their tender bottoms, so well-shaped,

unsuited to the rigours of

the eucalypt’s detritus:

the twigs, the bark, the broken branches.

Darker haunches might have served

but they would not have struck for him

the necessary pose,

their owners rummaging for tubers

or shinning up a tree for honey.

Those languid, seated, creamy curves

were painted over, stroke by stroke,

lovingly, we must imagine,

surviving, even now, below

a moderate impasto.


Flattened, flattened, flattened again,

the magpie on the bitumen—

though “in” might be the better word

considering his lost dimension.

Six weeks ago (who knows exactly?)

he would have made that one last swoop,

a bit too low and leisurely,

before the traffic cut him loose.

No one’s come to scrape him off;

his patchwork is persistent though.

On my walk each day I cross

that same relentless bit of road.

Looking both to right and left,

I offer my respectful glance.

The silence in the asphalt there

still has a certain eloquence

although it lacks both throat and eye

and everything but colour’s gone.

Beneath the pressure of the tyres

I hear the edges of a song.

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