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Letters on Cézanne

November 8, 2022

Leslie Bustard

Reading the poet Rainer Marie Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne opened my eyes to how I had barely been perceiving the depth of Paul Cézanne’s work. Even though he has been one of my favorite painters to ruminate over in museums (mostly his landscapes, trees, and still lifes) I realized that I had only been looking at the surface of things. Rilke’s passionate and incisive words, written to his wife after he discovered Cézanne’s paintings in Paris, have helped me love Cézanne’s work even more. To keep Rilke’s insights in my mind, I have written this found poem with a response. 

The Academy of American Poets defines a found poem as the following:

“Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems. A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.”

After exploring Cézanne’s paintings, Rilke shares his discoveries with his wife 

(a found poem using the words of the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke, in three parts)

Oct. 7, 1907


all of reality is on his side—

In his dense quilted blue

and the reddish black of his wine bottles,



the humbleness of his observations—

the apples are cooking apples,

and the wine bottles belong in 

the bulging pockets of an old coat… 


Oct. 13, 1907

. . . these colors could heal me of all indecision.


The good conscience of these reds, these blues —

their simple truthfulness educates you.

And if you stand among them,

you get the impression they are doing something for you. 


Oct. 19,1907

One can find examples among his earlier works

where he surpasses himself to achieve

the utmost capacity for love —


a simple life of love which endures.


How very much of one piece is everything 

we encounter; how related one thing is to the next.

All we basically have to do is be there,

simply, ardently—


the way the earth simply consents

to season, night and day and

altogether in space. 


Response to Rilke and Cézanne

After Paul Cézanne Vue sur L’Estaque et Le Château d’If

“I wanted to tell you about all this, because it connects in a 

hundred places . . . and with ourselves…”

Rainer Rilke on Paul Cézanne, 1907


Staring straight through the parted trees, into 

the colors of l’Estaque, I want to grab

your hand, step through the frame. We’ll walk 

down the path and shimmy over red roofs, 

then dive into all those blues and greens. 


Around the Marseille Bay we float,

content and satisfied, and slightly sunburnt. 

Featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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