Shadow’s Dream – Some paintings of Paul Delvaux

by Martin Burke

This is a dream’s shadow of a dream. This is the woman in the mirror as she sees herself (not as others see her). She is viewed under a sliver of the moon by attentive eyes (but what they see we do not see), and there is an orchard (it is wintertime, but it is an orchard).


Rest now, rest where the fates (which are the graces) attend and see the grand metropolis though it is empty of every inhabitant. Cover her face with the face of a bird (cover the bird with the face of a woman) as under the archways she walks out to a desolate landscape (myth has occurred there but now there is silence).


Ah but the sun is gleaming on a golden arena and her hair like a schooner’s mast is spread over the sea: mermaid swim as the sisters walk the shore. Or in the asking of alms from passers-by on the boulevard. Or like a judgement under the full moon which a jury must pronounce.


Again the mirror, again the woman (or her twin) holding a mirror in Homer’s land (as yet there have been no pronouncements though there are three witnesses)


And now she rests on the froth of a wave, and now she is the earth’s offspring, wife to Antaeus with the deeply red coloured drapes of a theatre curtain open behind her, taming the swan (you will know this story only in its convoluted version) to walk the white path under the naked trees or to recline against a background of temples, dressing herself in soft green colours.


Ah but the night is ever present and she is naked to it – but who is this in a bowler hat watching the parade of innocence (though he is innocent also)? And the curtain is open for the arrival of the tram rounding the bend.


And now she is bridal white attended by tender hands and concerned eyes where she waits on the platform (others are waiting also, others are watching her as if she were the focus of the world –and she is)


Now in a triad walking the long, narrow path by the high wall against a background of the sea where a schooner comes to rest (and four attendants are gathered near her).


Yet on the long couch in the blue room there is no one to observe her as in the moonlit street a skeleton walks into the distance.


She sports and reclines in a wood where others dance and men come to watch. She waits in a room and a figure enters. She gathers, for conversation (they will speak of secret wisdoms) three others about her


But the floor could be a chess board for them to move on (note also the innocence of the child (the child is always innocent)) and now she rests in the agora where the skeleton on the cross poses a dreadful redemption, only to walk across the central square from an open doorway leading onto this two sisters are watching from


Yet now in soft light she prepares for a waltz, is dressed in a crown of brambles and small leaves, and again in soft light extends a hand to the beautiful god who walks by un-noticing her


Now she gathers the prayer-house about her; now she is a mask of herself (or her own twin without a splitting of identity) wrapped in a red ribbon, where three skeletons gather to discuss immortality in the adjoining library.


But the agora calls to her again and she answers by her presence – now on a hillside with eight of her companions (but they are not her equal), to recline on a couch facing the long, empty train station, to turn and face a line of trees under the fullness of the moon where a child is searching for her on the empty platform, extending a hand to a hand extended


Golden yellow light in the distance illuminating the shunting yard, the god notices her but is (gently) rebuffed where she walks in a garden as if this was the hour of her passion, viewing a mirror in a cave, sitting on a bench in the company of others with a globe between her and her sisters.


And now all is languid, languid in the blue room. And now all is white in the garden with the glass pavilion where she displays a beauty that has no equal in to be found in those who attend her but the railway station is deserted, and of her twin (or is it her mirror-self) nothing is spoken nor hinted. Thus the skeleton comes to her room for simple conversation (in this is his redemption)


Now she baths under the canopy of stars, now the child walks the twisting road under the first quarter of the moon, now two skeletons attend something like a resurrection, now she reads a blue book (we do not know what this is)


Onlookers, again there are onlookers: white columns in a blue landscape she sits amongst, is draped, is jewelled, again with brambles in her hair sitting under a tree reading the book her twin (or is it her mirror-self) reads the absent pages of


Where she stands on the steps of courthouse or temple, where she gathers in a garden, where she sits in the empty carriage with the red carpet.


And now the brambles gather about her in honour


Though the town square is empty and the fountain is not working – dim light she passes under, dim light she watches her sleeping self by, the tram arriving, the occupants and those whispering


Ah but a kiss will solve the conundrum –and does


And now she might be a refugee from the house of Malpertuis, as in the dark room they gather to photograph her where a mirror shows her past images of herself and the skeletons dancing in the colonnade (Not dancing now when they remove him from the cross) one of whom attends her on the long red couch, changing to a white couch with a blue drape


Or in the lamp-lit lane reclining where the temple is empty and a head is resting on a table with an oil lamp that is not burning. Where in three landscapes she remain who she is regardless of the temptation to step into that landscape and be someone else.


Now ghosts and lovers attend. Now she stands accused, now she is acquitted (he who has died is wrapped in fine linen). She greets an admirer in the market-place. She observes the moon observing her (as does the shy companion by the window)

To walk the staircase and return by the same steps. To watch the professors in the garden at their discussions – Ah but the railway carriage (it is empty) is waiting with invitations and temptations as on the platform a single would-be admires waits to offer homage (visions of crucifixions crowd his mind) as to this Flemish town (this has to be Flanders) the train arrives at midnight

She rests on a couch in a welter of dreams. She is dress in red and blue and others attend. She sings in the long hall and gallery, she sees the train approaching

Into the room the naked boy enters and seven virgins dressed in white come from the harbour while men watch her dressed in a red ribbon

Yet the town is sleeping as if this was the empty landscape of desolation (but it is not) for at the mansion many are gathering for the yearly Ball – ah but the sly photographer is at his trade with all the cunning of his lust (two servants clean the room) and the picture so discreetly placed on the wall for observation and admiration

Now she gathers her attendants about her. Now she sleeps alone. Now she walks the darkened avenue of trees – alone in the colonnade (she will always be alone in this or any setting) holding the fruits of summer when her sister enters or gathered in the dark room where there is ritual and ritual’s mystery

Now it is morning and she walks the wide street of the town already filled with those who would be like her. Now she walks past the ladder leaning against the apple tree and her sisters on the sea’s foam are still singing and swimming

Now she dreams her twin (her mirror self) to life in a series of sensual poses where three men dare not show their faces (they hold three newspapers before them) but there are admirers (all be it of negatives) where one escaped from water kisses the unmoving statue of a god (if the god will not move then no man will also move).

In yellow robes in the city park. In the vacant spaces near a bridge. In the landscape of industry with a passing train. In the white landscape of a cold winter. In an embrace in a wood. In the chapel with the long wooden seats. Then into daylight, factory and harbour. Into an embrace. To a warm and loving and welcoming kiss. To a walk to the bath-house. To a night’s dance in a garden. Then a walk in the lane with only one light. To the prayer house again that she be observed again.

Now she is attended by flowers and nymphs. Now she watches (her sister watches also) from a garden wall where a bourgeois couple pass under a large, imposing umbrella.

So she kisses and would be kissed – bowing before the self she has become in a mirror placed on a beach, in a landscape of towers and trains and deserted streets or streets with voyeurs, in landscapes that are solid yet dissolving, where a train takes her to that destination we cannot follow her into regardless of our wishes and our needs.

This has been a dream’s shadow of a dream. This is the dream and the shadow. This is the shadow’s dream

Shadow’s Dream – Some paintings of Paul Delvaux

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