Last week I posted the painting of Edward Hopper’s NIGHTHAWKS and a not so funny couple lines. It’s not so funny, but I’m not a comedian, but it was an effort. On the serious side though, NIGHTHAWKS has always created much talk about what is going on in that diner, is it a diner? Maybe it’s a drugstore. Are the couple married, dating, or just strangers? There is no door painted on the establishment, is that significant? There are no people outside. Is it late at night or early in the morning? Is the lone guy on the other stool an acquaintance? Is he up to no good? It can go on and on with scenarios and meanings. Edward Hopper either didn’t know himself or wasn’t telling.
Which brings me to the point of all this. I discovered in my own library a small book I bought years ago titled: THE POETRY OF SOLITUDE A TRIBUTE TO EDWARD HOPPER. It’s really a very neat little tome. Evidently the publisher asked poets to write a poem about several of Hoppers’ paintings, and maybe picked the best. I don’t really know, but the result is pretty nice.
I picked one by Samuel Yellen, a late poet who wrote a poem about the painting, NIGHTHAWKS. There are more poems about the same painting and others.
What meanings do you read into the painting?
The place is the corner of Empty and Bleak,
The time is night’s most desolate hour,
The scene is Al’s Coffee Cup or the Hamburger Tower,
The persons in this drama do not speak.
We who peer through that curve of plate glass
Count three nighthawks seated there – patrons of life.
The counterman will be with you in a jiff.
The thick white mugs were never meant for demitasse.
The single man whose hunched back we see
Once put a gun to his head in Russian Bank,
Whirled the chamber, pulled the trigger, drew a blank,
And now lives out his x years guarantee.
And facing us, the two central characters
Have finished their coffee, and have lit
A contemplative cigarette,
His hand lies close but not touching hers.
Not long ago together in a darkened room,
Mouth burned mouth, flesh beat and ground
On ravaged flesh, and yet they found
No local habitation and no name.
Oh, are we not lucky to be none of these!
We can look on with complacent eye:
Our satisfactions satisfy,
Our pleasures, our pleasures please.