Seeing Rembrandt

A poem about encountering Rembrandt's work on different occasions, in London, Amsterdam and Boston

First, on a trip to Amsterdam with my daughter to see a college –

She didn’t end up going there – but it was rare

And special time, just the two of us together.

The famous Rijksmuseum was closed for renovation.

So we visited Rembrandt’s house.

Admired the pen drawings etched on metal.

Displayed in the comfortable, bourgeois abode.

Saw the box-bed he shared with his housekeeper

Copper pots and Dresden china, but none of it actually his.

He earned well always but spent better –

Lived beyond his means, and as he aged

Could not keep pace with his debts and went

Bankrupt, forced to sell everything he owned.

They had to leave the house. Managed to get around for a time

Vindictive rules set by the drawing guild, for bankrupt artists.

Rembrandt lived to 63, my father’s score,

Survived his common-law wife and son

Was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

Then recommended by a friend, at the National Gallery in London,

Between jobs and roles, juggling time as always, I

Captured a few hours to wait in line for the doors to open,

Got a ticket on the day to see the Self Portraits,

Was drawn to the paintings from the end of his life

The unwavering, honest way he saw himself ageing

The fallen cheeks, the double chin, the blotchy skin

Dark eyes that know sorrow but still hold light.

Next, when my uncle at 80 made an intrepid trip to visit us in Boston

After an enervating visit to the Museum of Fine Art,

In the Disneyworld Palazzo of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum

On a day in June, sunshine pouring into the courtyard

Enlivened with the fake croaks of frogs in audio art

Nothing labelled, as the eponymous philanthropist decreed,

In a corner of a room I came across young Rembrandt

Connected with the portrait and was moved: by

The kind and loving gaze with which he saw himself at 21,

Brown-eyed, hopeful, a little goofy, under a fancy hat;

The way he doesn’t yet quite fill up the frame.