Slow down for a moment. Forget all those things that you absolutely have to do in the next 30 minutes. Allow yourself the pleasure of getting lost in this painting.
Why is it so widely loved? Is it the complexity of pattern, the way that the background flows into his garment, which flows into hers without clear demarcations? Is it the abundance of rich gold, contrasted against the traces of bright blue, red and green? Is it the slightness of her body pressed against the dominating mass of his body? Is it the precise molding of her face, the glimpse of her shoulder?
Whatever the magic of this painting, copies of it have hung on the walls of countless dorm rooms and apartments and fueled the fires of equally countless fantasies.
So why have I pulled this image out of my memory bank, hot on the heels of the tale of Chet’s failed attempt at seduction (The Poetry of Seduction)? Because a poet whose work I admire, and who I met one Sunday afternoon in Paris, has a radically different interpretation of this painting. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem is going to challenge those of you who love The Kiss to look at it in an entirely different light.
He expresses so accurately my reaction to Chet that lovely fall evening in this excerpt from his poem, Short Story on a Painting of Gustav Klimt. The setting and words were so right. Chet was so wrong.
And he holds her still
holds her head to his
so gently so insistently
to make her turn
her lips to his
Her eyes are closed
like folded petals
will not open
is not the One