Sunday Morning Poem: “There is a gold light in certain old paintings,” by Donald Justice

This late work appears as the final poem in Donald Justice’s Collected Poems (Knopf, 2006). It has been a favorite ever since I learned of it a few years ago. The third stanza strikes me as an especially clear expression of religious hope as tempered by thoroughgoing realism about the difficulty of life, represented by the almost Beckettian song at the end of the second stanza.

1 There is a gold light in certain old paintings That represents a diffusion of sunlight. It is like happiness, when we are happy. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light, And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross Share in its charity equally with the cross.

2 Orpheus hesitated beside the black river. With so much to look forward to he looked back. We think he sang then, but the song is lost. At least he had seen once more the beloved back. I say the song went this way: O prolong the suffering if that is all there is to prolong.

3 The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work. One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good. The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar. Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good. And all that we suffered through having existed Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.

Note: regular BCC commenter melodynew contributes to a Poetry Sunday series over at The Exponent. Read her entry for today here. The more poetry, the better!


  1. Sharman Wilson says:

    Lovely, thanks for sharing,

  2. I can really identify with the #2. What I face each day is the combination of bodily pain, restricted abilities and fewer choices than I had before I was disabled. I often have people ask me why I decided to go back to school, why I choose more pain, rather than doing less and hurting less. It is always a struggle to really explain, that pain is now an almost overwhelming part of my world, but it is also part of every success. Each A is sweeter, each project more of a triumph, each article published more of a testament, to my unwillingness to let the bast@#ds win. I used to only have to fight that battle externally, now I also fight my body.

    Still, ” I say the song went this way: O prolong the suffering if that is all there is to prolong.” I have my Mother’s work to do, and I consider it a blessing that She and Father trust me with it, even when it includes excruciating pain.

    Even on days when there is no triumph, no ability to get out of bed, and suffering is all there is to prolong. Those days are the ones that are most likely to bathe me with the golden light that “comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once,” and gives me the strength to continue to love all those who have spitefully used me.

  3. God bless you, juliathepoet, and carry on!

  4. I do enjoy a good poem. Thanks.

  5. melodynew says:

    Thanks for the shout out, Jason K! Also, this poem is outstanding. That light. . . we all know it so well and he’s described it perfectly.

    Reading this reminds me that there is so much untapped beauty and nourishment in the world of poetry. Mormons have long been a poetry-loving people. Carry on, brother.

  6. Second stanza for me. Songs lost to the wind.

  7. Thanks very much. Wise and affecting. Pleased to have found your blog and I’ll be bsck to read more. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.

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