I was amazed, stunned, stupefied
To see her at last, hanging there.
But: so small, so puny when I was
Expecting something immense, larger-
Than-life, fit for her worldwide
Reputation, not a squirrely little thing
No bigger than posters I’d seen in
College dorm rooms years ago.
And there she was — the real thing,
Surrounded by hundreds of gawkers
Crowding me out so it wasn’t easy
To see that famous smile, the one
People cross oceans to see, the smile
We all had heard about since adolescence,
Since childhood, since birth almost,
The one that even Nat had sung about.
What was it, in the end? The self-satisfied
Half-smirk of a sixteenth-century privileged
damsel dreaming of her next rendezvous.
Only the eyes were really a surprise, following
You wherever you moved: You don’t see that
In a poster in a college dorm room, only
In her presence in the Louvre, where she’s
Ensconced behind a transparent bullet-proof
Shield to protect her, keep her inviolate, away
From nuts and ne’er-do-wells like the kook
Who poured acid on her or the one who
hammered David’s left toe in Florence for
I wonder if I was the only gauche, doltish
Philistine who was disillusioned in her sacred presence.
Too much build-up, I think. A lifetime of encomia
makes for disappointment.
About the Poem
The New York Times recently reported that Laurence des Cars, the Louvre’s president, has a plan to overhaul the museum. When the article noted “An estimated 80 percent of…visitors come just for the Mona Lisa,” it recalled my disappointment at first seeing that masterpiece.
About the Author
David Blumenfeld is an emeritus philosophy professor and associate dean who in retirement returned to writing poetry, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature, which he abandoned in his early thirties to devote full-time to philosophy. One of his recent pieces was cited in Best American Essays, 2022 as a “notable essay;” another received a Pushcart Prize nomination; a third was “highly commended” in the 2022 Autumn Voices international poetry competition and has just been republished in Five Points. His work for children has appeared (under the pseudonym, Dean Flowerfield) in The Caterpillar, Balloons Lit. Journal, Smarty Pants, Carmina, The Dirigible Balloon, and various anthologies. Davidcblumenfeld.com