An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618 is widely recognised as one of Diego Velázquez’s great masterpieces. The painting’s astonishing realism and detail, complex shadowing and lifelike lighting are all the more remarkable considering it was created by the Spanish painter when he were still a teenager, being made shortly after his apprenticeship in Seville.
It entered the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland back in 1955 and went on display in the Scottish National Gallery (it’s currently on temporarily loan at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands). The painting has become one of Scotland’s national art collection’s signature artworks, attracting admirers from all across the world, eager to see this prime example of a young Velázquez’s stunning artistic potential.
One such admirer is poet Stav Poleg, whose poem I’m Letting Velázquez is a response to the painting following visits to view it. Poleg is a poet, editor and teacher whose work has been published in publications including The New Yorker, Poetry London and PN Review. Her debut pamphlet Lights, Camera was published in 2017 and she recently completed the manuscript of her first full-length poetry collection.
The National Galleries of Scotland recently acquired her graphic-novel installation – created with Edinburgh artist Laura Gressani – entitled Dear Penelope: Variations on an August Morning. Poleg serves on Magma poetry magazine’s editorial board and teaches at London’s Poetry School.
I’m Letting Velázquez was published in PN Review 248, issued by Carcanet Press, which you can view here. A film poem of Poleg reading the poem aloud was commissioned by Carcanet and shot, edited and produced by Pixel Assist.
The National Galleries of Scotland have kindly received permission to reproduce both Poleg's poem and its corresponding film poem, which are below and above.
I’m Letting Velázquez
by Stav Poleg
After Velázquez, Old Woman Cooking Eggs
First published in PN Review 248
I’m Letting Velázquez
come up with the questions.
Does the absence of blue
resonate with the sound of imminent
rain? Is the extraordinary
yellow a tad too
rebellious for the sole illustration
of yolk as a symbol
of how easy it is — to draw
one’s attention, to mistake
every circular shape for the chance
of a moon?
Things are holding together
quite well and are going
to break any
second— I reckon— but I’m letting
Velázquez come to terms
with the non-accidental theatrical
darkness around the impeccable
setting of spotlights —
the two central figures, the knife turning
the plate into a compass,
almost touching the burning-clay pan,
of the brass vessel, just
leaning under the boiling-oil centre
of drama and
light. Here’s the palm
holding an egg
as if holding the shaping in progress
of a non-elegant
thought. Here’s the boy
carrying what must be
moon but I know Velázquez
would say I’m going
He’d say I forgot
to give the two characters “space" — let them
be there and
Each to their own
world of intentions and unanswered
each to their own constellations
of arbitrary objects floating
from one wall to another like an empirical
study in darkness and
If you tell me
a story— he’d say —
how the glass bottle goes
with the way he’s avoiding
or how the red terracotta
brings the light into
action until everything falls
into places— I’m
So I’m letting the sounds
own the space
for a while: the wine poured into
a goblet, the door opened and
closed like a possible
action on hold.
Then he comes back, puts his hat
on the table.
No, he says, only
kidding. It’s seriously raining
I’m Letting Velázquez was first published in PN Review 248
Find more about Stav Poleg at www.stavpolegpoetry.com
Film poem shot, edited and produced by Pixel Assist.