“Young people with ducks”

This poem was my first literary attempt and was written for a creative writing class in 1982 my freshman year in college. At that time the painting was exhibited in a museum in Madison, Wis where I was born and lived until 1983.

"Children with Ducks" by Edvard Munch

“Children with Ducks” by Edvard Munch. Munch-museet, Oslo.

“Little Brian”

This painting in oils, strange.
It is neither large nor small,
But comfortably middle.
This painting hangs in museums,
Drawing people to comment:
Its style, its colour.
For its colour is new: whites, grays, blacks.
It is a young painting waiting to be tinted.

It is entitled “Young People With Ducks”.
Why Ducks? These ducks, cast in bright,bold
yellow strokes, move with vibrant motion.
Why Ducks? Chosen perhaps because they are
rooted to the earth, clipped. Strange.

Two groups of Young People, boys and girls.
Are they groups? They mingle, meld, swirl in
confusion: or is there a purpose to their dance?
They are one with each other, black, brooding,
blending with the background. Strange.

Background of buildings, thick, squat, lines
indistinct; large, long sweeps painted hurriedly.
Almost, as if, shimmering in the haze of summer,
but trees are bare brown with winter.
For winter it is, snow, low grey clouds, cold
blanketing the blurred house. Strange.

But no, there is a house that is clear.
It has crisp lines, windows with crosspieces.
Rectangular, that chimney has individual bricks,
perched on a roof with shingles.
It is a special place: for whom? Strange.

Yet another figure, perhaps it is a boy,
physically young, in outline only.
Invisible, not seen by the Young People,
nor seen by the Ducks.
Only we viewers see this boy, lonely;
A gate is opened,
Memories flow out,
Remembrances of a past time.
For awhile, we are that boy. Strange

7 thoughts on ““Young people with ducks”

  1. It looks to me like the “children” in black are actually pall-bearers. The other people are attending the funeral. I think the line drawing, like you said, is the ghost of the boy in the coffin. I think it’s entitled “Children …” because that’s how we feel when we’re at a funeral … like we’re children again, confused, vulnerable, scared, small. And yet, some of the “children” have to look at the body, carry the body, mourn the loss, as if adults. But really, adults are children in bigger bodies, trying to act grown up. Some people are better at it than others, but still.

    The ducks look baffled, going in different directions, not really sure where they’re there, or why … what they’re supposed to be doing.

    Other than the dark figures, the chimneys DO seem to be centerpoints of the piece. Also, they don’t seem to be smoking, so there is that overwhelming feeling of coldness conveyed. But then the brightness of the yellow ducks and patches of blue sky sort of give the top and bottom a childlike energy and feeling of brightness shining through the otherwise dark and gloomy backdrop. Also of note is that the ducks are in the forefront, while the blue sky is highest and farthest away (from the observer). Between those two sections of color stands (or walks, actually; he looks to be in motion) the line-sketch boy. Actually, the other two divisions are the two groups of people, which he seems to be attempting to walk between, perhaps as a connector of sorts. Maybe he’s little-boy Jesus. He was just hanging out with the animals (easier to “talk” to maybe) and is headed for the clouds (because he’s going to die), but along the road, he’s going to do whatever he can to close the gap between divisive groups.

    I love the repetition of the word “Strange” in your poem. It really glues it all together. I can’t believe this is essentially your first poem. That’s crazy; it’s so good. I really like your title, also suggesting “Little Brain” … not meaning “small,” just “young.”

    What if all those people ARE adults, and most of the children aren’t shown? Maybe they’re off to the right, beside the ducks. Maybe all the kids aren’t “filled in” yet. As they age, they get filled with swirls and polka dots … but somehow, too many people end up in dark ugly coats as they age. There are a couple of women in red dresses, at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were other poems in high school but not for class. This was the first real poem. I had a hard time finding the picture online until I remembered the artist. Thanks for the extended comment.


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