In the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths . . . Arthur Rimbaud “Sensation.”
The pillars of Nature’s temple are alive/and sometimes yield perplexing messages . . . Charles Baudelaire “Correspondences.”
…one of those magical, closed water lilies which spring up suddenly, enveloping nothingness with their hollow whiteness, formed from untouched dreams . . . Stephane Mallarmé “The White Water Lily.”
The stunningly beautiful convergence of gardens, painting, and poetry now alive along the Monet to Mallarmé Poetry Walk at the New York Botanical Garden defies narration and invites a walk, an afternoon, several.
To walk the gardens, read the words, take in the artist’s palette, and stand before two of Monet’s rarely seen paintings is to get a sense of the rush of creative spirit and intelligence that marked the interactions of the Mardistes, painters, poets, writers and musicians who gathered regularly at Mallarmé’s Paris apartment more than 120 years ago.
This third collaboration between the Poetry Society of America and the New York Botanical Garden, following Emily Dickinson’s Garden in 2010 and the 2011 Gardens of the Alhambra featuring poems by Federico García Lorca, is a must see, with months ahead for repeat visits. The exhibit is open through October 21.
The Botanical Garden and the Poetry Walk were the setting for the Poetry Society of America’s Spring Benefit on May 23rd, which brought together poets, musicians, and friends of poetry for a tour of the exhibit and the Poetry Walk, followed by an evening of music and dinner at the newly renovated Stone Mill. Soprano Jennifer Zetlan and pianist David Shimoni performed three beautiful selections that set the words of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé to music by Britten, Gretchaninov, and Debussy. Actress Maria Tucci’s reading of a selection of poems from the French Symbolists gave resonant, memorable voice to verse more familiar on the page than aloud.
The impressively wide-ranging offerings as a result of this collaboration between the Poetry Society of America and the Botanical Garden include, over the course of the next five months, films, concerts, poetry readings, and children’s art activities. A new NYBG in Bloom APP allows visitors to the exhibit to toggle between the plants in Monet’s Garden and Monet’s paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A Saturday afternoon Salon Series, will feature poets reading from their favorite French poets and speaking about their influences.
A visit to Monet’s Garden offers the possibility if not certainty of an enlivening appreciation of visual and poetic beauty. Of Monet’s time, Alice Quinn writes in her essay in the exhibit catalog, “This was a moment of true apotheosis in Parisian cultural life, when so many geniuses were – as scholar Mary Ann Caws noted – ‘in a lookabout mode’.” An experience analogous to a ‘lookabout mode’ accompanies a walk down the Poetry Walk to Monet’s Garden. Poems and paintings and the impulses that sparked and inspired them are nestled within a landscape of intense beauty – colors and light play across a magnificent horticultural tableau.
A central theme of the exhibit runs through much of the wall text and is stated succinctly: for Monet, gardens were “part refuge, part motivator, part work of art”. Monet’s Garden and the Monet to Mallarmé Poetry Walk offer all three.
“Monet’s Garden” runs from Saturday through Oct. 21 at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx River Parkway (Exit 7W) and Fordham Road, Bedford Park, the Bronx; (718) 817-8700, nybg.org.
Madge McKeithen has written about poems in several essays including those collected in her book, Blue Peninsula (FSG, 2006). She initiated the One Page Poetry Circle at the NYPL and at the Darien Library. Her work has appeared in literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, The New York Times Book Review, and Best American Essays 2011. She teaches nonfiction in the Writing Program at the New School University and writes online at www.madgemckeithen.com.