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Friday, January 20, 2017

Poetry Friday--"Turner to His Critic"

Have you seen the 2015 movie Mr. Turner [DVD MR] about the English painter J. M. W. (Joseph Mallord William) Turner who led a rather eccentric life? If you recall, in the film there's a scene where Turner has himself tied to the mast of a ship so that he can experience, first hand, the effects of a storm. As a result, Turner painted "Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and Going by the Lead."

The painting above is also found in Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World, edited by Jan Greenberg [808.81 SID]. The poem, "Turner to His Critic," by Grace Nichols, is written in the voice of the painter in response to one of the many critics of his work.
Turner to His Critic

Soapsuds and whitewash, Critic?
Man, don't make me livid.
I was tied in a snowstorm
To the mast of a ship.
Do you have the foggiest of it?
Do you know what it is to be buffeted?

The buzzard of a blizzard
And the waves churning over me
The wildness of the whirlwind
The horses foaming at my feet

Why, even the sea can see through
Her storm-spectacles
That this work is a masterpiece.
Soapsuds and whitewash indeed!
If I had my way, you, Sir, would be
Soap-sudded to the bottom of the sea.

Turner was nothing if not passionate about his painting, and, his critics. If you're not familiar with his work, please visit The Athenaeum where you'll find more than a thousand paintings and drawings.

Visit Violet Nesdoly/Poems for the Poetry Friday Round-Up.


  1. I love this painting, and the poetic response is marvelous. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Some art needs poetry to make it really shine.

  3. Outrage poetically. Love it. I think there's a legend that John Muir climbed a tree in the midst of a storm in order to experience it. I've often thought about that, and now your poem/story. New to me, but quite amazing. Thanks, Diane.

  4. HA! I love it! Fight words with words, and a sense of humour. ;-)

  5. I love his response to his critics--truth and beauty and humor for the win! I didn't know the story of this painting or painter, so thank you for letting me learn something today.

  6. This is great! Love the line: "Do you know what it is to be buffeted?" His pique, expressed in that old-fashioned word "buffeted" is perfect for this historical subject.

  7. I love it! I think I'd really like that book. Going to look it up.