Carol Ann Duffy
The Virgin Punishing the Infant
after the painting by Max Ernst
He spoke early. Not the goo goo goo of infancy,
but I am God. Joseph kept away, carving himself
a silent Pinocchio out in the workshed. He said
he was a simple man and hadn’t dreamed of this.
She grew anxious in that second year, would stare
at stars saying Gabriel? Gabriel? Your guess.
The village gossiped in the sun. The child was solitary,
his wide and solemn eyes could fill your head.
After he walked, our normal children crawled. Our
were first resentful, then superior. Mary’s child
would bring her sorrow … better far to have a son
who gurgled nonsense at your breast. Googoo. Googoo.
But I am God. We heard him through the window,
heard the smacks which made us peep. What we saw
was commonplace enough. But afterwards, we
why the infant did not cry. And why the Mother did.
from Selling Manhattan (1987)
The painting, by Max Ernst, is entitled The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Eluard and the Artist (you will find some variations of the title on the internet and, after doing some research, I think this perhaps stems from differences in translations of the original title; La Vierge corrigeant l’Enfant Jésus devant trois témoins: André Breton, Paul Eluard et l’Artiste). The painting is on display at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.
Find out more about Max Ernst at the Max Ernst Museum website and on the video below http://www.maxernstmuseum.lvr.de/fachthema/englisch/index.htm