Poems and pictures
in Reading poetry
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This chapter considers poems which are about an art object. The ekphrastic process provokes consideration of how poetic representation works, partly because it embodies the Ancients' view that there is an intimate relationship between pictorial art and poetry. This view is encapsulated in the saying that 'A poem is a speaking picture; a picture is a silent poem'. Ekphrastic poetry has a long history, and the earliest well known example is the description of the shield of Achilles in Book XIII of Homer's Iliad. The most frequently cited examples of ekphrasis in English poetry are: Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'; Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess'; and W. H. Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts'. These poems effectively constitute the ekphrastic canon and critics conventionally use them to analyse and classify the various elements and devices seen in ekphrastic writing.


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