Elizabeth Jennings

Samuel Palmer and Chagall by Elizabeth Jennings

Samuel Palmer and Chagall is a poem about art, as it brings to us the paintings of two great artists, Palmer and Chagall. With the presentation of these two great artists or painters, the poet has actually tried to bring forth his own philosophy of art.

Samuel Palmer and Chagall by Elizabeth Jennings

We've analyzed this poem twice

We enjoy this poem so much, we made sure two of our team of poetry experts analyzed it, to provide different interpretations.
Read the second analysis



The artists in ‘Samuel Palmer and Chagall’ were specifically chosen for the contrasting styles.

Palmer, a realist landscape painter born in the early 1800s, is compared to Chagall, an early modernist known for his dreamlike scenes of Jewish life. Further along in the poem, in the beginning of stanza two, Jennings brings Picasso, the leader of the cubist movement, and Blake, the writer, painter, and illustrator into the poem.

The poem begins with the speaker comparing the hearts and minds of Palmer and Chagall. She speaks directly to them and then turns her attention to Blake and Picasso. The speaker then begins to assert her own philosophy of art, declaring that “great qualities” are what makes great art possible. She speaks on the quiet she feels in the art that is filled with strange subdued scenes that create the wildest dreams. Jennings ends the poem by describing the one thing that she, or at least her speaker, believes worlds of art are built from, love.

You can be read in full Samuel Palmer and Chagall here.


Language and Imagery

The poem, Samuel Palmer and Chagall, by Elizabeth Jennings is structured in a very simple rhyme scheme, which reads like abab cdcd etc. Right from the beginning to the end of this poem, Elizabeth continues to echo her philosophy of art and makes a very neat comparison between two pieces of art and artists. The poem also consists of very straightforward use of language, instead of the flowery one that is generally found in many poems of many different poets. Overall, it is an amazing poem with the best comparison of the stalwarts from the artistic world.


Analysis of Samuel Palmer and Chagall

You would have understood each other well
Worlds that each painter makes from mind and heart.

The poem, Samuel Palmer and Chagall has been written in a conversational tone, which is very well-depicted by the very first line of its first stanza when the poet says: “You would have understood each other well”. The use of second-person ‘You’ in the whole poem makes us assume as if the poet is directly talking to Samuel Palmer and Chagall.
Addressing them, Elizabeth says that there is a great difference between their art and their personal worlds. To make it clearer, she says it is not the art that they create, but it is the desire of their hearts and souls that help them come up with such an outstanding piece of art.

While concluding the stanza, the poet says: Their art (artistic ability or creativity) ‘Are less important than the personal/Worlds that each painter makes from mind and heart.’

The greatest –Blake, Picasso – move about
And no deception can exist at all.

Comparing the artistic activity of Samuel Palmer and Chagall with Blake and Picasso, Elizabeth says that where the former moved about in many worlds, you (Samuel Palmer and Chagall) just have one small, yet perfect place. By this, she may be referring to the limit of the spheres or reach of their artistic creativity and caliber.

Let’s clear it hear, in case of Palmer, she may mean Shoreham, near Sevenoaks where he, from 1826 to 35, lived in a house, called ‘Rat Abbey’, and Vitebsk, in the case of Chagall who also belonged to shtetl (a small Jewish town or village in Eastern Europe) of Vitebsk in 1915.
Or the limitation of their artistic sphere could also be related to their reach in the world of art.

With the juxtaposition of Blake with Picasso, the poet might have tried to show us the spread of the artistic creativity of both these great souls of the artistic and poetic world.

Where the former surpassed in the world of poetry, the latter is well-recognized as the great painter of his time and is even today revered and respected for the artistic contribution he made to the painting and art world. And this may be the greatness and reach of both these great artists that Palmer and Chagall look dwarf before them.

But at the same time, the poet says that the artistic spheres of both these artists are well-defined, that is; in their art, you will neither find any ‘doubt’ nor any ‘deception’. So, their art is as perfect as their artistic creativity.

Thus, the art of Palmer and Chagall though may not be like Blake and Picasso; they are yet perfect in themselves. They are free from deception, and undoubtedly ‘perfect’ in every respect when it comes to creating amazing art.

Great qualities make such art possible,
Those moons, those marriages, that dark, that blue.

Presenting his own philosophy of art, the poet, in this extract, says that making such an art is not possible by ordinary human beings. It is only the great qualities that help him/her come up with such a fantastic piece of art. In order to create such an art, one must have a sense of truth, integrity, and view of man that will best fit into the world that’s perfect in itself.

Thus, likening the inner moral virtues of integrity and truth, with the external world, the poet says that the world is complete in itself. It has no ‘me’. And when she says: “Those moons, those marriages, that dark, that blue”, she may directly be referring to the painting by Palmer, entitled as “A Cornfield by moonlight with the evening star” and the painting by Chagall, christened as “Lovers in the moonlight”.

I feel a quiet in it all although
Your images, and so you can arrange

Putting forth her philosophy of art, Elizabeth says she can feel quietness in the art though the created scenes and subjects in it may look strange to her. Elizabeth says there may be stillness in their art but there is still the presence of wildest and darkest dreams that make us realize what the painting wants to say.

The poet says: ‘I think it is that order pushes through/Your images, and so you can arrange.’
And make the wildest, darkest dream serene;

Landscapes are like still-lives which somehow move,
Fantastic worlds but all are built from love.

In this concluding stanza, the poet says there is no movement on the canvas, it can only be found in the heads and hearts of the artists. This means that an artist creates an art with patience and silence in his heart and mind, but you never know what havoc is going in his/her mind. He/she makes it visible or expresses it only when he creates some art with thoughtful messages.

The poet says your world of the painting looks fantastic, with shining moon and sun, but it is all because of the love that with which, the poet suggests, you both should paint.

Yes, the wildness must be in your hearts and souls, but it must not be reflected through the painting or art you create. You should rather reflect your love towards the natural objects.

We've analyzed this poem twice

We enjoy this poem so much, we made sure two of our team of poetry experts analyzed it, to provide different interpretations.
Read the second analysis

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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