Thursday, 29 September 2011

Italian poem No 3.

The psychiatric unit of the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence treats between ten and twenty people each year who are so overcome by certain supreme masterpieces that they suffer disorientation, palpitations and sometimes manic or depressive symptoms. Among the artworks that trigger this response are Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's David. The condition is known as Stendhal Syndrome, after the writer.  Sufferers are usually single middle-aged visitors. Italians appear to have a natural immunity.  This poem is for Anne and Delphie.

City of Enchantment

Ah, Florence, flower among cities!
Who could resist your charm?
How your admirers come
with starry eyes
to gaze upon your beauty!
How you entrance the mind
and hold the heart
and steal the soul
of those so blessed to know you!
There you stand
between the gliding Arno and the sky
like Venus born again for our delight -
with knowing eyes
that hold a promise in that look,
at once so secret, coy and warm -
you know the power of the enchantment
that will lie on us
once we are in your realm
and give our helpless senses
to your pure distilled intoxication.
Let us pause and look a little while    
before we venture in.

We see you standing there before us -
glowing flesh caressed by light of day
skin of transparent marble veined with grey, 
and your tress of orange tiles swept
over your shoulders like a sunbleached mane -
such thick, bright, fragile stuff to shield and hide
the precious cache of treasures you maintain.
Here we see your dress for everyday,
the fabric made of terracotta pink
bordered with formal ornament
and scattered with stylised flora;
here and there the golden edges glint
and catch the sun.
Now we feel
fresh breezes from the sea come up the valley
breathing the showers and flowers that give you life.

Florence, the Queen of Cities!
Mistress of many a mad infatuation!
Oh how we who are you suitors
long to be where your warm arms enfold us,
where your charms outspread
such a delightful feast of varied joys
that even the appetite of glutton
must at last be satiate.
What are your offerings?
Beauties too rich to purchase!
Thoughts too intense to dwell on!
Joys too divine to dream of!

Queen of the heart! 
You stand 
at once so warm and cool, 
so welcoming and shy 
folded in hills 
and robed in flowers  
between the drifting water 
and the pale sky. 

Botticelli's Birth of Venus is renowned for
provoking attacks of Stendhal Syndrome.

©   Tamsyn Taylor


  1. This post is in response to reading one of Jonathan Jones' Art Blogs at The Guardian. (see link left).
    It was inspired by an elderly German teacher guiding a party of high school kids, with whom my path crossed at the "Gates of Paradise" and at Michelangelo's tomb. Although I didn't understand a word of what he said, the intensity of his adoration was clearly apparent.

  2. We found the perfect cure, last July: bus to Fiesole, walk over Montececeri, where Leonardo first essayed heavier-than-air flight, and down to Settignano, all in 35+ temperatures. A good climb, a better descent, a pub on the way, and the Stendhal gets sweated out. Mind you, the technophile is probably more immune than the aesthete. (peter macinnis)