The Night Watch - Rembrandt

We walked along the canal,
admired the crisply painted houseboats,
flower pots and greenery
giving the decks a homey air.

The great Rijksmuseum loomed over us,
renovations, of course, detoured us
around the canal. We circled the sawhorses
to get in.

We passed through rooms of
mass portraits, wall-sized formal paintings,
with carefully arranged important men.

He painted such pictures too, before this one,
before he was tired of doing
what was expected,
dignataries all lined up properly in a row.

The heads turn this way and that,
some of them only partially shown.
They look out into the large room
separated from us by a fragile barrier.

Two small very blond Dutch children
stare across the silken cord
at the darkly dressed men
performing their civic duties.

Something made him say enough
this one will show living burghers
not dead portraits arranged for show--
you will see them as they are.

We hear they did not like this casualness
not showing them at their poised best,
showing us the warts

dimly lit.

Lari Smith