This post contains the page developed by Eider Zorrilla for last years course on The Milkmaid.
“When he painted Tanneke she stood there happily pouring milk for months without a thought passing through that head, God love her.” by Tracy Chevalier.
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.
Essay for Claire on The Milkmaid
It was just another spring morning for her. Once again, she woke up very early in the morning and walked towards the market in order to buy the fresh milk and the fresh dough. Going to the market every morning was not an easy task for her, as she was a country girl, who had to travel to the big city and made a living. She was used to milk the cow, because she would help his father every single morning back in their farm.
She worked as a maid in a wealthy family and although she had been working there for some years, she still missed a lot her humble way of living. She was known around the city as the milkmaid, though her real name was Tanneke.
She was provided with food and clothes and had her own room in the house, that was the way in which the wealthy family payed her services at the house. That morning she was wearing the yellow long-sleeved rustic garment with blue stripes on it and the only skirt she had, which was covered with a dark blue apron. As she was still young and not married, she had to wear a white shawl covering her hair.
She was tired of working day after day and night after night, pleasing the others and not herself; going to the market, cooking, cleaning, washing, serving, watching after the kids … the list of the tasks never came to an end in that house. There was no time for having a rest; no time was left even to breath. However, she never showed any bad face or gesture. She tried to do her best each time. Whenever she felt exausted, instead of stopping doing things, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes and kept on with her tasks.
She had a dream, a dream she never shared with anybody. She kept it to herself. She had built in her mind her perfect future. She dreamt about going back home with some money in the pocket. Home, her home, her family, her whole life spent at home. Home was for her more than four walls and a bed, it was her people, the most important part of herself. Home was for her beautiful green hills, valleys, dales and pure streams and lakes. Home was for her life. It was nature in its own. Cows, highland cattle, deers, sheeps…that was home.
There was no much light in that room. The sun had just start shining and illuminatin the world. Besides, the window of that room was not a clean window and so, light could hardly find its way in. Nevertheless, she had to prepare the breakfast for the Lady before she woke up. Actually, there was a little hole in one of the pieces of the window, which allowed the entramce of the light to be a bit easier. That ray directly illuminated her face, letting her see well.
By that time in the morning she had already gone to the market so she had already shaped the bread, cooked it in the old woodden oven and put it in different baskets. She had a look to the bread and thought it was the best bread she had ever cooked. It was perfect: not too burnt but with that tempting colour and great smell, which invited her to eat a piece. She began pouring the milk into the cup. Inspite of being tired, exausted, she poured the milk in a very careful way, as if it was the most fragile thing in the world. There was no drop of milk spread in the table; her apron was still clean, which she tried to keep that way because she had no other apron.
Although she was tired and bored of doing the same day after day, she tried to it the best she could. However, you could notice her sadness in her face. You could see trhough her eyes her resignation.
Millions of ideas would drift in her mind. She spent most of the day thinking, missing, dreaming about her home in the country. She would remember the green valleys with the seeps and the cows, the almost blue lakes surrounded by beautiful pink, yellow and white wild flowers, the singing of the birds and the fly of tens of butterflies around the trees and the grass. She remembered the pure white winters, in which almost everything was frozzen and white. Lakes and rivers were as strong as stones, with no flood of water through them. There were not wild colourful flowers at the shore of the lake, neither green grass in the slope of the hill. Those lively butterflies would have hidden in winter time, and birds would not sing as loud and happy as in summer time. She remembered the freezing cold day and nights, especially whenever she had to do any task outside the house.
That morning, once again, she would think about all those things, and would pour the milk just wondering herself how green valleys would be or how blue lakes and streams would be back at home. The work seemed to be easier while dreaming about being there again. Her departure was nearer than ever, though she did not know anything about it. She thought she had to spend at least a couple of years more there to be able to go back home.
Nevertheless, the mistress of the house did not need her services more. Tanneke had been a very good maid for many years, but was getting old. The mistress needed young maids, full of vitality. So, that same morning, after pouring the milk, putting the bread in the basket and bringing them to her mistress, she was told the great news. She was going back! Going back home! She thought full of happiness. She went downstairs jumping enthusiastically, where she packed her few things in an old bag. Her dream had made true.