Tag: Édouard Vuillard

Gunn and Vuillard: Coffee people

Tuesday, 29 August, 2017 0 Comments

In a poem from his 1982 collection The Passages Of Joy, Thom Gunn declared: “I like loud music, bars, and boisterous men.” Gunn was born on this day in 1929 in Gravesend in Kent and died on 25 April 2004 in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. He moved from England to California in 1954 to live with his male lover and to immerse himself in San Francisco’s bath-house culture. Gay life, however, was not his sole poetic focus. Celebration, endurance, mortality and reading, in their broadest senses, were his themes. “Deep feeling doesn’t make for good poetry,” he said once. “A way with language would be a bit of help.”

Thom Gunn’s meditation on Deux femmes buvant leur café, a remarkable painting by Édouard Vuillard now housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, is filled with the poet’s love of people and places and art and coffee.

Painting by Vuillard

Two dumpy women with buns were drinking coffee
In a narrow kitchen — at least I think a kitchen
And I think it was whitewashed, in spite of all the shade.
They were flat brown, they were as brown as coffee.
Wearing brown muslin? I really could not tell.
How I loved this painting, they had grown so old
That everything had got less complicated,
Brown clothes and shade in a sunken whitewashed kitchen.

But it’s not like that for me: age is not simpler
Or less enjoyable, not dark, not whitewashed.
The people sitting on the marble steps
Of the national gallery, people in the sunlight,
A party of handsome children eating lunch
And drinking chocolate milk, and a young woman
Whose t-shirt bears the defiant word WHATEVER,
And wrinkled folk with visored hats and cameras
Are vivid, they are not browned, not in the least,
But if they do not look like coffee they look
As pungent and startling as good strong coffee tastes,
Possibly mixed with chicory. And no cream.

Thom Gunn (1929 – 2004)

Vuillard