The Caryatid at the Gates of Hell

[Rodin’s great never-completed Gates of Hell fascinates me, both in its entirety and for the renowned individual figures like The Thinker, The Shades, The Old Courtesan and, especially, The Fallen Caryatid. I also liked it for these purposes because Rodin’s sculpture started as a representation of Dante’s Inferno: today’s challenge from Rebecca was to write an ekphrastic poem: a poem about a work of art. So I tried to write a poem based on a sculpture based on a poem.]

Stone, fixed stone above me, squeezing

Me down into stone

Below me

Twisting, writhing


Men and women, demons and gods

Half-formed, straining, stretching, beseeching, reaching

Children and Shades

Squirming, thrashing

Abandon hope


[Where are my steady sisters

Standing so straight

Carrying their weights above their heads

So straight, so strong, so long

Where once I stood]


Now fallen I find myself among these struggling fallen

Francesca and her Paolo

Never then crippled

Now they coil forever in hell’s whirlwind

Ugolino and his children at dinner

Not where they eat but where they are eaten

The thinker, poet, sculptor, dreamer


Unfinished plaster cast in his studio

And my new sister

That shriveled old courtesan, the helmet-maker’s once beautiful wife

Twisted arm, poking ribs, hanging teats

Is this what I have come to? Is this where I must stay?


[Once I stood slender and strong

Surrounded by my sisters bearing our impossible loads

Our robes flowed soft in liquid stone

Our hair, thick and long, like Samson

Held our strength]


Until collapsing, crumbling, folding

Defeated I crouch forever at his gates of hell

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