Have you ever wandered through an art gallery, found a painting, and thought, “That looks like it should be a poem!” Or have you ever read a poem and thought that it sounded a lot like a painting you’ve seen? If so, then you know the idea behind ekphrastic poetry.
An ekphrastic poem is based on a work of art. Usually, ekphrastic poems are written about a painting, but they can also be based on a sculpture, an object, or even architecture. One of the earliest examples is in the Iliad, when Homer describes Achilles’ shield. Another famous example is John Keats’ poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
In an ekphrastic poem, the poet usually describes some part of the work of art and may extend their own thoughts on the work’s underlying story or significance. Ekphrastic poems are wonderful ways to stretch your powers of observation and find stories hidden in the world of art!
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
Staring at the Night
swirling silver sky
in the silent city
of a tender
to his soul
as I cannot
Books of Ekphrastic Poetry
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Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art by Justine Rowden
Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World by Jan Greenberg
Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art by Jan Greenberg
Create an Ekphrastic Poem
Look at a painting closely
How would you describe the color palette: is it cool or warm, bright or dull? What about the composition: is it realistic or fantastical or a combination of both? What is the subject? Where is the subject located? What is happening in the image? What do you think the artist is trying to say?
Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and jot down your observations. Don't worry about punctuation or grammar. Just write.
Shape your thoughts into a poem
Use a simple poetic form such as