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Edward Hopper

[1882 – 1967]

housebytherailroad

Critics tend to note that Edward Hopper’s painting House by the Railroad and Edward Hirsch’s poem “Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad” (1925) offer two views of a particular time and place in American history: the tail end of the main industrial movement in the United States, when the traffic of industry aggressively reconfigured the American landscape. Even as that traffic brought work and culture to some parts of the country, it ravished and compelled the abandonment of others. What for some was progress was for others decline. Both works address additional subjects, including the role and impact of the artist.

Edward Hirsch (b. 1950) is a contemporary poet known for his advocacy of poetry (and his bestseller ⇒How to Read a Poem” and Fall in Love with Poetry). Hirsch’s poem belongs to the tradition of ekphrastic poetry, which the Academy of American Poets defines as poetry that “confronts” art.

•  Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad  (Edward Hirsch_1925)

Out here in the exact middle of the day,
This strange, gawky house has the expression
Of someone being stared at, someone holding
His breath underwater, hushed and expectant;

This house is ashamed of itself, ashamed
Of its fantastic mansard rooftop
And its pseudo-Gothic porch, ashamed
of its shoulders and large, awkward hands.

But the man behind the easel is relentless.
He is as brutal as sunlight, and believes
The house must have done something horrible
To the people who once lived here

Because now it is so desperately empty,
It must have done something to the sky
Because the sky, too, is utterly vacant
And devoid of meaning. There are no

Trees or shrubs anywhere–the house
Must have done something against the earth.
All that is present is a single pair of tracks
Straightening into the distance. No trains pass.

Now the stranger returns to this place daily
Until the house begins to suspect
That the man, too, is desolate, desolate
And even ashamed. Soon the house starts

To stare frankly at the man. And somehow
The empty white canvas slowly takes on
The expression of someone who is unnerved,
Someone holding his breath underwater.

And then one day the man simply disappears.
He is a last afternoon shadow moving
Across the tracks, making its way
Through the vast, darkening fields.

This man will paint other abandoned mansions,
And faded cafeteria windows, and poorly lettered
Storefronts on the edges of small towns.
Always they will have this same expression,

The utterly naked look of someone
Being stared at, someone American and gawky.
Someone who is about to be left alone
Again, and can no longer stand it.

◊  Philip Glass   ↓ ‘The Poet Acts’

◊  Edward Hopper & Debussy  ↓

Debussy’s Claire de Lune expresses so well what Hopper’s paintings often depict: moments of quiet reflection, introspection, solitude, thoughtfulness…the human soul in repose

•→Edward Hopper Study: Hotel Room  ⇓ (poem by VICTORIA CHANG)

hotelroom

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