At Luca Signorelli's Resurrection of the Body Analysis

Jorie Graham

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“At Luca Signorelli’s Resurrection of the Body” is a long, free-verse poem of 106 lines divided into eighteen stanzas; the first seventeen stanzas have 6 lines and the final stanza contains 4 lines. The lines of this poem are mostly short and vary from two to six syllables per line, although some lines have as many as eight or nine syllables. The title immediately locates the poem’s speaker in front of a fresco by Luca Signorelli, an Umbrian painter known for depicting muscular bodies in violent action, capturing them in a wide variety of poses and foreshortenings. Resurrection of the Body is in the San Brizo Chapel in Orvieto Cathedral, where, between 1499 and 1502, Signorelli painted a series of scenes depicting the end of the world.

Jorie Graham’s persona speaks in the first person in a voice that is likely analogous to, if not wholly imitative of, the voice of the poet. With the speaker’s voice so similar to Graham’s, one is encouraged to read the tone of this poem as serious and philosophical. It appears that Graham will attempt to pose an answer to the introductory question, “Is it better, flesh/ that they/ should hurry so?” The poem is organized into three unannounced sections that show the speaker’s meditation progressing from one subject to another. The first section comprises the first thirty-three lines, in which Graham gazes at the details of the fresco. She notices the violence of the bodies and points out how the...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The experience of standing in front of a painting and contemplating its meaning is an experience that is likely familiar to most readers. Poems written about this type of experience are part of a genre called ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrastic poems often show a speaker attempting to find meaning or feeling by looking intently and deeply at a painting, sculpture, or photograph. The images of the art object often become a part of the imagery of the poem. Two familiar examples of ekphrastic poetry are John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and William Carlos Williams’s “Pictures from Brueghel.” There are several other ekphrastic poems in Graham’s Erosion collection. Paintings by Signorelli, Piero della Francesca, Masaccio, Francisco de Goya, and Gustav Klimt allow Graham to interact with visual art in a way that makes art objects part of a living, breathing tradition of attempting to make philosophical sense of the world. Signorelli’s painting is as real and as vivid as any image in twentieth century poetry. Just as Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” is about the visual importance of a commonplace object because of the mental connections that it can stimulate in one who sees it, Graham’s poem focuses upon the value of art’s ability to focus her thought. Art allows Graham to understand how one can make sense of the relationship between body and mind. This specific fresco is not only valuable for its intellectual and historical importance, but it...

(The entire section is 525 words.)