Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Vermeer, Johannes - Poem Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Johannes Vermeer: The Milkmaid

The Milkmaid

by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

There is no flattery here: this thick-
muscled, broad-bottomed girl has milked
cows at dawn and carried sloshing pails
hung from a yoke on shoulder
broadened to the task. She has kneaded fat
mounds of dough, sinking heavy fists deep
into voluptuous bread, innocent
and sensuous as a child in spring mud.
Evenings she mends and patches
the coarse wool of her bodice, smelling
her own sweat, sweet like grass and dung
in the barn or like warm milk
fresh from the udder.
Her world is grained and gritty, deep-
textured, rough-hewn, earth-toned, solid,
simple and crude. Reed and brass and clay,
wheat and flax and plaster turned to human use
have not come far from the loamy fields
where they were mined and gathered. The things
she handles are round and square. tough-
fibered and strong, familiar as flesh to the touch.
The jug rests in her hand like a baby's
bottom. She bends to her task like a mother
tending her child, hand and eye trained
to this work, heart left to its pondering.
How like tenderness, this look
of complete attention, how like a prayer
that blesses these loaves, this milk
(round like this belly, full like this breast),
given daily into her keeping, this handmaid
on whom the light falls,
haloed in white, hallowed by the gaze
that sees her thus, heavy, thick-lipped,
weathered and earthbound, blessed
and full of grace.
To learn more about Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and The Milkmaid (1658-1661), see and
‘The Milkmaid’ by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre appeared in the book In Quiet Light. Poems on Vermeer’s Women, Eerdmans – Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2000.
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University. She taught literature at Mills College and the College of New Jersey before going to Westmont College. Dr. McEntyre has written several books, edited several collections of essays and poetry, and published widely in periodicals both in literature and in medical humanities. She has written two other books of poems about artists and art: one on the religious paintings of Rembrandt (Drawn to the Light) and one on Van Gogh (The Color of Light). Her most recent book is called Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, all from Eerdmans. 
ArtWay Visual Meditation May 15, 2011