Five Poems, after Edward Hopper

A painting can create a visceral reaction, emotion beyond tears, and that is all and must be enough. Other times there will be room for words. For me, more than any other painter, Edward Hopper evokes that response.

Hopper’s work is all about the space between people and things, space that is usually filled with light that never really illuminates, space that exists on its own plane, space and light that create their own tension.

Hopper says…

When I don’t feel in the mood for painting I go to the movies for a week or more.
So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect.
"Maybe I'm not very human. What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."

For more of my writing about pictures, see here

Edward Hopper, Two on the Aisle, 1927

Two on the aisle

Why arrive so early, these three?

The woman in red, already seated

Wrap over the back of her chair

Eyes firmly on her program.

The woman in black, hand smoothing

Her green cloak over her chair.

The bald man in the tux

Takes off his coat, looks

Up casually, away from both.




One wife in green, one mistress in red.

“Be there early,” he said. “I will

See you. You leave when I arrive.

I will excuse myself, and

We can meet in the lobby.

I can caress your hand with

The same fingers I used

This afternoon. We will

Breathe the same air, and I will

Look into your eyes, fall in them

As deep inside you

As I was

This afternoon.”


They will return, separately, by the time

The musicians arrive and begin to tune.

She will look at the back of his head

Want to feel his body against hers

As she did this afternoon.

He will look at the stage, careful

To keep

His hands unmoving, while

He thinks of her mouth and tongue.

While the air is filled with music

So light, he will begin

To cry inside

Because of what is, and what is

Not, because there is so much

Space, and so little, because

The light can never pierce

His inside dark.

Edward Hopper, Office at Night, 1940

Office at Night


She left her typewriter to walk to the files.

She opened the drawer, took out a file,

And the letter dropped to the floor

By his desk.


It is the letter she was not supposed to see,

The letter about her,

Regarding a transfer.


Because he can no longer stand her so close,

At her typewriter,

Just across the room,

Facing him

Hour after hour,

Her lace collar always fresh,

The slight perspiration glisten on her upper lip

When she concentrates.

The way, when she rises, her dress clings

To her legs and hips

The way her breasts seem always,

Under her dress,

Like a warm invitation.


He loves her so much,

More than his wife,

More than his children,

So he knows he must move her

Out of his life.


She will find a new life in Des Moines,

Meet some nice single guy,

Get married,

Raise kids.


And he will go on with his life—

An okay life,

A sort of living.


Of course, she loves him, too.

She loved him the first time

She came into his office

And finally,

After sitting quietly,

Got up the nerve up

To look at him directly.


Her heart actually stopped beating.


Until that moment she had thought

The magazine phrase

Was fiction.

Now she knows the truth.


She has never told him,

Never said a word to him

Or anyone.


Except that now,

In a moment,

She will try

To say something.

But she won’t.


She will put the transfer paper on his desk

And he will say, without looking up,

“Yes, it’s for the best.

You’ll do well in Des Moines.”


And she will put the cover

On her typewriter,

Push her chair back from her desk,

Stand, smooth her skirt,

Straighten her lace collar,

And leave,

Without closing the door.


He will rise and close the door,

Then stand and begin to sob,

His shoulders shaking in the blue white light.


On the other side of the door,

In the semi-darkness of

An empty office hallway,

At nine in the evening

Of a Wednesday in October,

She will stand and wait

For love to pass away.

At that moment she will be only

Tears and a dark future.

And all her life

She will wish

She had left the paper on the floor,

And she will wonder,

If she had left it on the floor,

Would he have picked it up,

And looked at her,

Then slowly crumpled it

With his strong fingers?


She thinks this almost every morning

While she is at the stove in Des Moines,

Slowly stirring the oatmeal

For her five year old son,

Called Skipper

By his father.

Edward Hopper, A Woman in the Sun, 1961

A Woman in The Sun 1961 (Whitney)

The light is bright, she faces

Bright yellow light, but looks

Down, to the edge of the bright.

Why has she left her bed

With the blue blanket?

Where are her clothes?

The shoes are there, alone

She stands, ready to look

At something we cannot see.

We can see the other window

The window with green hills

And summer light.

But we can never know

What she will see

When she raises her eyes

To look into the sun.


Did Icarus just leave?

Had they made love in her single bed?

Stockings stripped, but she’s

Forgotten, along with the notion

That the heat of the sun

Would melt the wax.


She had forgot to tell him

About the wax.

She knew.


And smoking now

She is sorry.


She will put on her yellow dress

And blue-black shoes.

She will comb her hair.

And leave.


She will do better next time.

Edward Hopper, Western Motel, 1957

Western Motel


In a moment I will rise from the red bed

Put on my blue jacket

Let fingers touch my golden hair.


You will pick up the two suitcases

And we will leave the light green room

And begin again, in the dark green car.


Even though it is early morning

The car will be hot.

We will roll down the windows, and sit.

Let the air cool the car

While inside the room

Empty air still holds

The red bed and the red chair

The bed where I sat and looked at

My blue jacket and thought

If I stay, I will be here

And you will be alone

In the green car.


We will never know which was better.

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950

Cape cod morning

The princess in the castle

Sits and stares through

Yellow curtains, longs for

The cool green park

She knows he waits there.

That is his job, his duty, his life.

Just as it is hers

To long for the Park.