Vincent's Chair with His Pipe

Poem by Robert Fagles

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

all I work with is myself
my own empty chair
4 legs cut trim
ladderback straight
and a rush seat tight
but empty
                                  there are
so many empty chairs
and soon there will be more
soon nothing but empty chairs
my father’s chair I painted once
and now I paint my own
standing apart a spirit
restless hovering over
a chair abandoned
I place my pipe and pouch
tobacco shagcut brown
on the seat and plant
the chairlegs deep
in the clay tiles
paint a box of maple
banked with flowers
I call Vincent
a lifeless chair the air
I breathe is Vincent
my absence is a presence
all my passing is
a standing fast