Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The theme of the poem is clearly specified and underlined throughout, namely “the dead.” By this syntagma the poet means primarily his parents and other departed relatives or friends. Later in his career, Wright embarked upon a related topic when—in six numbered, separate poems bearing the generic title “The Appalachian Book of the Dead”—he tackled a mythology of death and dying. What is less clear, and of no little consequence to the understanding of “Homage to Paul Cézanne,” is the relation between the topic and the poem’s title.

Paul Cézanne was the towering figure of modernity at the turn of the twentieth century. Both cubism, exemplified by Pablo Picasso, and Fauvism, by Henri Matisse, sprang from him. His characters, landscapes, and still lifes yield an overpowering sense of reality. At the same time, one of his chief concerns was to establish a parallel between the harmony at work in nature and the one inherent in his art. Wright’s insight was that the dead daily imbue reality with their presence as, for instance, the color blue, which was used in everything Cézanne painted. This is particularly visible in the later landscapes, including the series of sixty works dedicated to Mont Sainte-Victoire, which dominates the sights at Aix-en-Provence, a historical and cultural region in southern France.

The American critic and novelist William Gass, in his essay “On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry” (1975),...

(The entire section is 513 words.)