Portrait of Dr. Gachet

Poem by Robert Fagles

Selection from I, Vincent, Poems from the Pictures of van Gogh (1978)

Country doctor, companion, last resort,
we work together daily, even now.
 
“Should the attacks become too much to bear,
I can relieve you, drug the intensity,” he says,
“if only you can bear to be frank with me.”
 
(Frank. Anything. Why not?
We’ve much in common. Flemings both,
socialists, mad for animals, free love,
though I wish he’d drop his pet scheme,
a society for Mutual Autopsy.
                                                     We’re very close,
our rooms like alchemists’ garrets,
we turn anguish into art…
both addicted to painting,
Monticelli our hero,
old Pisarro introduced us.
                                                      Look at him,
pipe always lit, red hair, blue eyes—
strange resemblance between us…
his troubles great as mine, all right,
but a doctor’s tools give him more defense,
or should—he’s sicker about his patients
than I about my painting.
                                                      I’d trade him
job for job… as sick, that’s certain.
Blind leading the blind to the same ditch!)
 
When I look at you, good doctor,
I see my double—
shade of the dead-born Vincent
growing old with me. Dear ghost,
can a touch of homeopathy help us both?
                                                               Let me
paint you emerging from a deep blue valley
of depression
even your redingote is blue
                and the hand that props your head,
your face creased with the disenchantment of our time,
                                but another hand is at the foxglove
(lavender, digitalis, tonic for the heart)
your pale blue eyes, bright with anxiety
your hair more red than mine.
 
Let me catch your spirit—pressing fifty
you still project your latest study:
The Art of Living a Hundred Years.
Good luck!
Light apparition, so preserved,
neither you nor I will altogether die.