“Candle Hat”

13 Oct

my wee aromatic candle

Goya, Self-Portrait in the Workshop, 1795

Last night, Shannon and I decided to scrap our independent, responsible plans for the night (go for a run! make dinner! catch up on emails!) and we headed to Anthropologie in East Liberty instead (followed by Green Mango for dinner after…so good). Shannon spied these candles in the sale section of the store, and despite my aversion to monogrammed things (sorry, Mom!), I fell in love with the scent of this candle. So, I bought it for only 3.95 (good deal, if you’re interested). For the rest of the night, I did what I had to do in its glow and in its delicate, wafting scent.

And, the poem that kept coming to my mind was this one below, “Candle Hat.” Billy Collins is not one of my favorite poets, but I do love his talent for saying things without pretension, and his ability to humanize even the most inaccessible or intimidating figures or ideas. I love how Collins says, “But once you see this hat there is no need to read / any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.” I still can’t get over that Goya wore this hat, and I kind of want to make one for myself, although I’m sure it could only end in disaster. (PS – With candles like these, when you’re done with its glow [Oh, sad fate!], you can use it as a planter!)

Candle Hat

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
“Come in, ” he would say, “I was just painting myself,”
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

–Billy Collins

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3 Responses to ““Candle Hat””

  1. Jamie October 13, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Your post brought a smile to my face. Sometimes you just have to take in the little wonders of life that delight you. I can imagine Goya’s eyes dancing at his invention, both in its quirky creativity and even more so to be able to continue his passion into the night without restriction–being in that moment of creating without one thought about the passing of time.

    If I lived in his time, I have a feeling that upon seeing his hat that I would want to make one of my own, too.

    • isleofiona October 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

      I’m so glad it brought a smile to your face. Agreed!! Maybe we should have a candle-hat-making party?


  1. A postcard fireplace: the joys of friendship « The Tightrope - October 30, 2010

    [...] effort into our friendships with our kindred spirits both near and far. It’s a bit like the poem I referenced by Billy Collins about Goya in this post, as he writes, “to understand Goya you only have to imagine him / lighting the candles one by [...]

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