Image by Peter Milroy

Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits

Elizabeth Jennings


Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits

Elizabeth Jennings


Poem introduction

I love looking at pictures and Rembrandt is my favourite painter among the old masters. And this poem is called 'Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits'.

Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits

Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits'

You are confronted with yourself. Each year
The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.
You give it all unflinchingly. You stare
Into yourself, beyond. Your brush's care
Runs with self-knowledge. Here

Is a humility at one with craft.
There is no arrogance. Pride is apart
From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift
The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt
But there is still love left.

Love of the art and others. To the last
Experiment went on. You stared beyond
Your age, the times. You also plucked the past
And tempered it. Self-portraits understand
And old age can divest,

With truthful changes, us of fear of death.
Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,
The sadness and the joy. To paint's to breathe,
And all the darknesses are dared. You chose
What each must reckon with.


from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1987), © Elizabeth Jennings 1987, by permission of David Higham Associates. Recordings used by permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd. and the British Council www.bloodaxebooks.com www.britishcouncil.org/arts-literature

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