Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'Samuel Palmer and Chagall' by Elizabeth Jennings

Samuel Palmer and Chagall

You would have understood each other well
And proved to us how periods of art
Are less important than the personal
Worlds that each painter makes from mind and heart.

The greatest –Blake, Picasso – move about
In many worlds. You only have one small
Yet perfect place. In it, there is no doubt,
And no deception can exist at all.

Great qualities make such art possible,
A sense of truth, integrity, a view
Of man that fits into a world that’s whole,
Those moons, those marriages, that dark, that blue.

I feel a quiet in it all although
The subject and the scenes are always strange.
I think it is that order pushes through
Your images, and so you can arrangeM

And make the wildest, darkest dream serene;
Landscapes are like still-lives which somehow move,
The moon and the sun shine out of the same scene-
Fantastic worlds but all are built from love.


Samuel Palmer and Chagall is a poem about art, as it explores the paintings of two artists, Palmer and Chagall, and presents the poet’s own philosophy of art.


The poem opens with a rather conversational line “You would have understood each other well”, as though she is talking to each of the painters gently. She continues to say that their art has been less important than the desires of their hearts and minds. In the following lines there is an interesting juxtaposition between Blake and Picasso. It is not a coincidence that Samuel Palmer was a great admirer of William Blake, whom he met in 1824. Compared to Blake and Picasso, Palmer and Chagall have smaller spheres to move around – Shoreham in the case of Palmer and Vitebsk in the case of Chagall. It could also be a reference to the rather limited sphere of artistic activity of these two painters, compared to Blake and Picasso. However, she comments that their artistic spaces are well-defined (“there is no doubt”) and there is no “deception” there.

In the following lines the author compares the inner moral virtues of truth and integrity, with the outer world of moons and dark and blue. She says the world is ‘whole’: there’s no ‘me’ against the outer world, I am a living part of a living whole. The words “Those moons, those marriages, that dark, that blue” could be a direct reference to the painting by Palmer titled “A Cornfield by moonlight with the evening star” and the painting by Chagall titled “Lovers in the moonlight”.

In the next two stanzas, the poet puts forth her philosophy of art. Art is still-life, but even in that stillness, the poet recognizes the presence of ‘wildest, darkest dreams’. Nothing moves on the canvas: the movement is in our heads and in our hearts. Palmer and Chagall, the poet suggests paint “from love …”

Language and imagery

The poem has a simple rhyme scheme of abab cdcd etc. The whole poem is a neatly presented comparison of two pieces of art and artists, followed by a presentation of the poet’s philosophy of art. The language is straightforward and not flowery, like the philosophy the poet expounds and like much of her poetry is in general.

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