Garden of Earthly Delights, central panel
Hieronymus Bosch c. 1505-1510
In a day-dreamed tapestry, figures clamber
toward a viewpoint, harmonize lust and eating:
what we want combines in a giddy, sunlit
landscape of pleasure.
Noah’s children (all of them twenty) pose like
dolls, small nudes sporadically tangling limbs with
wilder creatures. Love here looks odd, a trick of
light and sensation
gauged by others: avians aim their blinkless
stares. They’re huge. A vigilant mallard nudges
larger juncos; orioles, kites and shrikes launch
What do birds know? Bosch makes them gaudy liars,
hardly scientific though close enough to
trick us (colors splatter just wrongly, beaks have
shortened to stick-pins),
and they’re preternaturally calm. No flight, and
even Owl’s “who-cooks-for-you?” stirs no bridled
appetite: no gourmandised humans litter
hunger’s own garden.
Beaks clamp. Tiny lovers relax, yawn smaller.
Even thus they capture desire: though less than
real, they loose a flood of unbidden, prized and
Size unequalled. Edible dreams. A stranger’s
wingspan. Unfatiguable sight. What once could
charm us, flown. What pained us so, kept. A world of
nights which get lighter.