Wednesday, October 07, 2015


I learned another new word the other day while researching for a post.
The word: ekphrasis.

From Wikipedia:
Ekphrasis or ecphrasis, from the Greek description of a work of art, possibly imaginary, produced as a rhetorical exercise; often used in adjectival form, ekphrastic. A graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times, it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, 'out' and 'speak' respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. According to the Poetry Foundation, "an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art." More generally, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art...........

Poems inspired by paintings are more common than I had realised. A quick Google search can bring up several lists of such literary gems. Here's a link to just one such website.

I was led to the word ekphrasis by a poem that I didn't find in any list, but happened upon while randomly reading some of William Carlos Williams' poetry.

The poem:
THE DANCE - by William Carlos Williams

In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies, (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess.
The poet, William Carlos Williams is featured in an archived post from 2011:
William Carlos Williams and his natal chart

The painting:

Pieter Brueghel The Kermess oil on canvas 45" x 64.5" (1567-8).
Click on image for larger, clearer version.

A kermesse was originally a special celebration on the feast day of the saint who stood as patron for the town or village in which it occurred. It was common in the southern Netherlands and in Flanders. Over time, however, the concept came to mark any special town or village oriented celebration, often organized to some charitable purpose, and indeed the concept of the kermesse made the jump across the Atlantic to Dutch and Flemish communities in the United States, in New York and Michigan, for instance. (More HERE.)


mike said...

Not an easy word (ekphrasis) to accommodate my understanding of its definition! It seems the definition has transmogrified over time to encompass any writing that relates as a descriptive of something visual. Somewhat perplexing to me regarding rhetoric as essential to the definition and the later relationship to verse.

Is visual rhetoric a complementary antonym to ekphrasis?

"Addressing this evolution Wagner writes, 'Ekphrasis, then, originates in the field of rhetoric and has been appropriated by literary critics and art historians.' Even by Wagner’s approximation this is not an inherently bad circumstance, but one that leaves scholars with a challenge of confining the term with constraints that still allow for useful observations and insights into the dilemma of the word and the image. Wagner continues suggesting, 'We should drop, once and for all, the tacit assumption that the verbal representation of an image must be 'literary' to qualify as ekphrasis—in our age of the arbitrary sign it has become extremely difficult to distinguish between 'literary' and 'critical' text. If ekphrasis is 'the verbal representation of visual representation,' a definition most experts now seem to accept, the first part of that definition can only mean: all verbal commentary/ writing (poems, critical assessments, art historical accounts) on images. All such writing is essentially ekphrastic: the difference between the critical and the literary versions is one of degree, not one of mode or kind.'"

Twilight said...

mike ~ I suspect that it's a word I shall never have need to use! Still, it's handy to have some vague understanding of it, should I come across it again one day. My understanding became even more vague reading through those links too! Yikes! Those academics can do a word to death! I wonder if there's a word for that! :-)

Sonny G said...

yep Annie, theres a word for THAT--OVERKILL~!!

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Hey Sonny! Good to see you - how are things in your area? - Have you had big problems? I hope nothing too drastic?

(Yep - overkill is right!)

Sonny G said...

Alls good here thanks, Annie. we got about 8 inches of rain but no flooding.

I'm 120 miles inland- the coast got they worst of it.

I took a $100.00 to the food bank on my way to the doc this morning. They'll see to it that food/water and such gets to the coastal food banks. SC got it worse than NC as far as I can tell.
I hope all is well in your area.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Glad to know all's well for you and yours. We weren't sure exactly where you live but knew it was somewhere in the Carolinas. We haven't had anything untoward weather-wise here in OK, thanks for asking though. :-)

mike (again) said...

Sonny - Good to know that you're OK and not in the effected region(s). N & S Carolina have been receiving LOTS of airtime.

Sonny G said...

Thanks Mike..

I got a call from habitat and they're sending 2 crews next week to help get some of the homes fixed"for those homeowners without nsurance and unable to do it themselves"
The state would EVENTUALLY get around to them but usually by then more damage has occurred cause what needed fixing it worse than it is now.
My son is going on one of the carpentry crews. So many subfloors will need to be replaced as well as footing checked to make sure they're stable before work even starts.
I used to work with Habitat locally and they really do what they say and spend whatever donations they get very wisely..
God Bless Jimmy Carter..