The poem as icon of the painting
The focus of this paper is to investigate the poetic expression of a painting as it is transposed into a poem. Such an interaction between the verbal and the visual text results in what Simonides of Ceos describes as “poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silens” — the poem is a speaking painting, the painting is a silent poem. How does the poem become such a depiction or representation of the painting? Assuming that the poem contributes to the significance of the painting by adding additional layers of meaning to it, the iconic aspects in the poem text therefore suggest the painting’s content as its visual embodiment. In the following discussion, I will argue that the iconic meaning-making processes taking place in Tom Gouws’s (2010) Vermeer poems function as a meta-language of the paintings. I will suggest a descriptive framework for delineating the iconic processes that are present in and around Gouws’s poetic texts in order to try to show that the poet not only explores the painting’s visual text but also investigates and confronts language iconically in several of his poems based on Vermeer’s paintings, e.g. “The Astronomer”, “The Geographer”, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”, ‘“Lady Weighing Pearls” and “The Men of Vermeer”. This comes however particularly to the fore in his poem “The lacemaker’ ” which will be read in conjunction with another of Gouws’s poems, “ars poetica”. These two poems will be read as verbal figurations of visual writing through which a particular kind of iconic narrative is established.