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RUBENS' WOMEN, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"Ruben's Women" by Wis?awa Szymborska is a critique and contemplation of artistic representation and societal standards of beauty, using the baroque paintings of Peter Paul Rubens as its launching point. It interrogates how women's bodies are depicted in art, and by extension, how these depictions shape or reflect cultural attitudes. Through the lens of the Baroque period, Szymborska not only critiques the objectification of women but also makes a commentary on the transient nature of beauty standards across ages and styles.

The women in Rubens's paintings are described as "Titanettes, female fauna, / naked as the rumbling of barrels." This characterization immediately casts them as larger-than-life, almost mythical creatures, yet also objects rather than subjects. They are part of the "fauna," depersonalized and reduced to their physical attributes. The description of them as "naked as the rumbling of barrels" interestingly deploys a simile that draws upon sound rather than sight, suggesting that their nakedness is loud, disruptive, and takes up space.

Szymborska invokes the sensory aspects of the Baroque era with "Dough / thickens in troughs, baths steam, wines blush," painting a lavish, indulgent landscape. This opulence reflects in the "pumpkin plump" and "pumped-up corpulence" of Ruben's women, figures of ample build glorified by the artist. However, their ostentatiousness is juxtaposed with "their skinny sisters," who are "exiled by style." These women are marginalized because they don't conform to the Baroque aesthetic of voluptuousness. In other eras, they would be venerated-"The thirteenth century would have given them golden haloes. / The twentieth, silver screens." Szymborska poignantly points out how definitions of beauty are restricted by temporal and stylistic constraints, emphasizing the unfortunate fate of those who find themselves "unvoluptuous" in a period that doesn't celebrate them.

The poem's conclusion, populated by "pudgy angels and a chubby god," suggests that this aesthetic extends to the divine, underscoring the idea that cultural norms are not just confined to earthly matters but can be projected onto heavenly ideals. This makes the "exile" of the skinny women even more poignant, as they are marginalized not only in society but in the very cosmos as envisioned by the artists of the time.

Szymborska also raises questions about the role of the artist in shaping societal attitudes. Rubens's women are not just voluptuous; they are "inflated double by disrobing / and tripled by your tumultuous poses!" This underscores how the artist's choices-of clothing, pose, angle-amplify certain attributes and qualities, shaping public perception.

"Ruben's Women" thus serves as a multi-layered critique, touching on themes of artistic representation, societal norms, and the fluidity of beauty standards. It forces us to reflect on how art both mirrors and molds societal values, often perpetuating stereotypes or unrealistic ideals. It asks us to consider who is marginalized and who is celebrated in these depictions and why, challenging us to question the norms we often unconsciously uphold.


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