Peter Cooley

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, Age 51
August 23, 2011 Cooley Peter

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, Age 51

National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh


Rembrandt, I aspire to your self-portraits
to study myself, growing old to die.
This isn’t morbid. Even at twenty
Death had begun to carve his lines in me.
I saw one yesterday, circling my son’s mouth.
He’s eighteen, the mirror shows him life ahead
where his beard’s come in, where it is yet to be.
Now back to you and me, my small project.
Will you sustain me, unpaying student,
guide me, staring into your self-portraits,
that I might separate the light from shadow
in my life, present myself, dark as you,
never smiling, never conventional?
Rembrandt, you were bankrupt when you did this one.

Peter Cooley is Professor Emeritus at Tulane University and was Louisiana Poet Laureate 2015-2017. His 11th book was THE ONE CERTAIN THING, elegies for his wife, who died in 2018.