Poem on ‘The Milkmaid’ by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

The poem is taken from Marilyn’s ‘In Quiet Light’, which was published 8 years ago. This book is full of poems on the different Vermeer’s paintings, and this is the one on mine. It’s nice to have a look at them and see another different way of describing the works.

(As you already know, some of these poems are included in our book)

There is no flattery here: this thick-muscled,

broad-bottomed girl has milked cows at

dawn and carried sloshing pails

hung from a yoke on shoulders

broadened to the task. She kneaded

fat mounds of dough, sinking heavy fists deep

into voluptuous bread, innocent

and sensuous as a child in spring mud.

Evenings she mends and patches

the coarse wool of her bodice, smelling

her own sweat, sweet like grass and dung

in the barn or like warm milk

fresh from the udder.


Her world is grained and gritty, deep-

textured, rough-hewn, earth-toned, solid,

simple and crude. Reed and brass and clay,

wheat and flax and plaster turned to human use

have not come far from the loamy fields

where they were mined and gathered. The things

she handles are round and square, though-

fibered and strong, familiar as flesh to the touch.


The jug rests in her hand like a baby’s

bottom. She bends to her task like a mother

tending her child, hand and eye trained

to this work, heart left to its pondering.


How like tenderness, this look

of complete attention, how like a prayer

that blesses these loaves, this milk

(round like this belly, full like this breast),

given daily into her keeping, this handmaid

on whom the light falls,

haloed in white, hallowed by the gaze

that sees her thus, heavy, thick-lipped,

weathered and earthbound, blessed

and full of grace.

2 responses to “Poem on ‘The Milkmaid’ by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

  1. Pingback: on vermeer’s light or evening breaks | shauna lee lange: the art agrarian·

  2. Pingback: Two Book Giveaways from Authors Who Grew Up on Dairy Farms | Shirley Hershey Showalter·

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