Tate Etc

Merry Jesters Henri rousseau II

Kathleen Jamie writes a poem exclusively for Tate Etc. inspired by Rousseau's painting The Merry Jesters 1906

Merry Jesters

Beneath not a forest
canopy, but calm
domestic skies,
grow myriad greens,
a fan of jagged black.

Here every leaf
must have its day: each
heart-shape or spear’s
equal to every other –
for this is a jungle

republic, where naturalised
exotics flower
angelically bright,
and a placid bird presides.
But she whose wings

drape her like a vestment
merely observes
as half-a-dozen denizens
of the deeply municipal
conduct some ritual

or prank – which we
have interrupted, so the animals
(bar the sad excluded one)
are regarding us. But what
have we intruded upon?

What requires the red
funnel, the pallid stick,
the so-suburban milk bottle
stolen, one suspects,
from a polished step?

We can enquire, but not
one of them, not the bear,
or the frond-
obscured fugitive
by the bear’s head,

the dog-faced monkeys,
or even that wise bird
will spill the beans,
and frankly, there’s no good
reason why they should.

See also