Estill Pollock: Landscape with the Shipwreck of Aeneas

peter paul rubens aeneas
Landscape with the shipwreck of Aeneas (1605) by Peter Paul Rubens


Estill Pollock‘s first pamphlet selection of poems, Metaphysical Graffiti, was published in England. This was followed by a principal collection, Constructing the Human (Poetry Salzburg), which was later developed into the book cycle, Blackwater Quartet. Between 2005-11, in collaboration with Cinnamon Press in Wales, he published a second major book cycle, Relic Environments Trilogy. His latest collection, Entropy is published by Broadstone Books (2021) in the United States. A native of Kentucky, he has lived in England for forty years.

NB: Landscape with the Shipwreck of Aeneas is a narrative poem about the painter Peter Paul Rubens.



Old hand of the addict wards, homeless
The schizophrenic rages
In the street, screaming at no one
I’ll kill you I’ll kill you all again

Then gobs a Covid oyster at some girls, who laugh
And raise their phones, the Nutter in the High Street
Immortalised in uploads, his greasy coat folded
On the kerb, by the water bowl
his little dog asleep

His mind is maelstroms, his memory
Dusty plains and sword work

His mother, Aphrodite, weeps for him, her
Mortal son, the coin-toss
Of humanity that thrills the Gods and underwrites
Their petty interventions

She skeins lost moments, stunt heroics
Now the province of the neo-Stoics

The Duke of Mantua to the Spanish King, Greetings
And for friendship’s sake I send my Fleming
Peter Rubens, with pretty portraits
Of the Saints, marble tables, statues
And a coach of filigreed design, its team
Of bays our kingdom’s envied pedigree

A thousand miles on horseback, muleback, carts
Rough as roads and troughing seas, Rubens’ retinue
At last to court, finds the King away
Hunting in the north

The crates prised open, the waxed paper petticoats
Lifted, Rubens stares, the paintings’ oils
A mush of mildewed turpentine

Only Mantua’s own Ambassador’s amused

The marble polished, the horses washed in wine
The weeks before the King’s return, Rubens
Repaints archangels, the Virgin and the putti
That hover like hummingbirds over all

The treasures at last presented to the King, a triumph

The Ambassador, jealous, elbows Rubens
To the shadows, takes the bow

From Mantua his brother writes, Such time
Since we are met, when will you return

The script is faultless, the paper’s edge
A razor fold, the letter an impromptu ruse of rewrites
All in Latin verse, his OCD
Fluttering like red flags on the battlements

Rubens’ eventual response a hedge

Brother, to Spain adieu, adieu
These weeks of golden baubles and queue
Of portrait belles — my pledge
Is Mantua and home
But first a detour south, and Rome

His brother by return, the practiced lines
Offhand, a greyscale of intent, In the ruins
Of the Forum, wild flowers underfoot, meet me
Beyond this Netherlands decorum, beyond
The snaggletooth colonnades, the ancient busts
That test your genius lines, then I to Antwerp
To our mother, the root
Of us, ill these many weeks

But Rubens’ life was crossroads, ambush agendas
Waxed paper crinolines parting
To the light, apparitions dovetailed
Each to each, accepting
From disciples of a vision priest
The altarpiece at Chiesi Nuovo, for him
The prize commission, hero work and fame

Later, across the Alps his brother’s note, You
Must come, there is little time

And less time still, on horseback, Mantua
To Antwerp, in the lane her little house, the brother there
In mourning

In their mother’s Will, a specific, To Peter Paul
To return to him his gifts to me, his paintings
Which are very fine

In the painting the ship crumples under
Seas boiled black — snapped spars, sails
Now winding sheets, all
The drowning terrors fixed in pigment oils
From the wrecking shore the ribbon
Of road, and near it
The few survivors, a soldier, a servant, a woman
With a child, its cooling corpse, but nothing to
Reality, only brushwork’s intimations

Among them there, Aeneas

Higher still, the promontory peak, the lighthouse
Its summoning flicker too weak
Against the breaking up of ships, against
Landfall on this killing coast

In the painting, the future arcs beyond the frame

Aeneas, the others, a little dog, perhaps
All, resting by the trees by the road
To seven hills, the foundling city
Its weight

In 1626, Rubens’ wife is dead
He said, Of Time and Reason I cannot be
Equally indifferent… the cost… Forgetfulness I look to now
Or Reason’s lost

In early masques, Dido and Aeneas preen
In boozy love, until in dreams a word
Like Destiny is whispered
And ships snag tides to new suns, the Queen
Sunk lifeless on a keepsake sword

The breakers of Liguria fillet Fate, the storm
A palette of perspective where dull cloud shrugs
Its millstone ruff, a sleight-of-hand
The sable’s touch devours

Who marks the time, the square and level
Of the rule of stone, sketchbook hours
Ground in lampblack and vermillion, Egyptian blue
In veils, shadow upon shadow

Troy Antwerp Carthage, ghosts of Rome
And cottage rooms — the painting holds its breath

Event horizons shimmer, phantom fleets
Persuaded to a depth of dark beyond this sorcery, these
Gods, echoes of their laughter through the mad
Mad streets

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2 thoughts on “Estill Pollock: Landscape with the Shipwreck of Aeneas

  1. This is very clever and knowing. I love the relation between Virgil and Rubens, and the sharp point with which you pierce the contemporary references. I’m often disappointed by poems that take art as their subject, but not here.


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