Winter Afternoons in the V & A, pre WWII

Denise Levertov

“…My shoes made no sound, I found
Everything for myself,
Everything in profusion…

Here was history
As I desired it: magical, specific,
Jumbled, unstinting,
A world for the mind to sift
In its hourglass—now, while I was twelve
Or forever.”

The poet, Denise Levertov, was a frequent visitor to the Victoria & Albert museum throughout her life, always discovering the tangible and sensual connection to history through that Museum’s objects of desire. Sometimes in our haste to order, rationalize, and make cohesive thematic statements in our exhibitions, we may lose some of that magical profusion and jumble of things for the mind to quietly sift through for itself. We may forget the personal power born of self-selection, subjective context, imagination and direct encounters with wildly juxtaposed things. That may be the true poetry of museums, the unexpected connections, personal moments and memories that urge us back to recapture something experienced at twelve and maybe all over again at sixty three. That is what has drawn me back to Rembrandt’s self- portrait in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. He is fifty three in that painting and looking into the mirror. I wondered as a teenager what he was wondering about in that gaze; what questions were troubling him so. I now know as we stare into each other’s eyes. That Rembrandt has been my own personal hour glass through the years and I visit him like an old friend needing reassurance. No label could express that relationship or the time we have passed together.