The garden of earthly delights is vast.
I can’t take it all in immediately.
No one can. And so many delights
seem like horrors. Is that like Life?
Is one’s delight just another person’s horror?
The manacled blue flutist and the devil
sitting on his night chair eating someone,
rightfully frightened me as a child and
that hasn’t changed. Is this Earth or
Hell? I do not want either place.
The Garden of Earthly Delights is the modern title given to a triptych oil painting on oak panel painted by the Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch, between 1490 and 1510. It is kept at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
The painting is an inspiration for this poem, but what really triggered it was seeing a group of figures from the painting made 3D into small sculptures.
The painting must be viewed at a much larger size than shown here to be appreciated, but in the detail at the top of this post, you can see a group of nude females from the center panel. The head of one female is adorned with two cherries—a symbol of pride. To her right, a male drinks lustfully from an organic vessel. Behind the group, a male carries a couple encased in a mussel shell.
Little is known of Bosch’s life or intentions. The symbolism is intricate. There have been many scholarly interpretations over the centuries. Modern interpretations still wonder if (particularly the triptych’s central panel) is meant to be a moral warning or a panorama of a paradise lost. Is this an admonition of worldly fleshy indulgence? Is it a warning on the perils of life’s temptations? Is it an evocation of ultimate sexual joy?
Joy is the furthest from what I feel looking at the painting. Earthly is also far from what I see. As a young person, I thought it depicted some kind of Hell.