by Elizabeth Jennings

You are confronted with yourself. Each year
The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.
You give it all unflinchingly. You stare
Into yourself, beyond. Your brush’s care
Runs with self-knowledge. Here

Is a humility at one with craft.
There is no arrogance. Pride is apart
From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift
The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt
But there is still love left.

Love of the art and others. To the last
Experiment went on. You stared beyond
Your age, the times. You also plucked the past
And tempered it. Self-portraits understand,
And old age can divest,

With truthful changes, us of fear of death.
Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,
The sadness and the joy. To paint’s to breathe,
And all the darknesses are dared. You chose
What each must reckon with.

IMAGE: Self-Portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn (1659).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Jennings (1926–2001) attended Oxford University from 1944 to 1947. During her degree, she attended lectures by  C.S. Lewis and was influenced by T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and “Four Quartets.” Her first collection of poems was published in 1953 and her inclusion in Robert Conquest’s New Lines (1956), helped to establish her in the Movement, the grouping of English poets associated with Philip Larkin during the 1950s. Her literary career spanned nearly 50 years and her awards included the Somerset Maughan Prize and a CBE.