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Poetry Moment: 'In the Alte Pinakothek', by Lynn Levin

Lynn Levin
Melina Meshako
Lynn Levin

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

This year, the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur both occur in September. The story of the binding of Isaac is central, traditionally read on the first or second day of Rosh Hashanah. To many, blowing the ram’s horn is a reminder that Isaac was spared.

Upon visiting the Munich museum, the Alte Pinakothek, poet Lynn Levin responds to Rembrandt’s depiction of almost-sacrifice. But what about the ram?” she seems to ask.

Lynn Levin is the author of nine books, most recently House Parties, her debut collection of short stories. Levin’spoetry collections include The Minor Virtues, Miss Plastique and Fair Creatures of an Hour. Her work has appeared in Boulevard, Scientific American, Smartish Pace, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and other places. A Bucks County poet laureate, Levin lives in Southampton, Pennsylvania and teaches writing and literature at Drexel University. Her website is

Engagement and interpretation—both are helpful in the study of Torah and the writing of ekphrastic poetry, poems responding to art. In today’s poem “In the Alte Pinakothek,” Lynn Levin enters into Rembrandt’s famous painting. There she discovers the open throat of Isaac, an angel staying Abraham’s hand, the dropped knife. But Levin seems to most identify with the ram caught in a thicket. In meeting the eyes of the ram, she understands that redemption comes at a cost.

Here’s —

In the Alte Pinakothek

With Rembrandt, it is Isaac in the foreground,
bound upon the kindling,
splayed across his face, his father's hand,
his body splashed with light, his neck laid bare.
Upward there is the angel fully feathered,
in the center kneeling obedient Abraham,
in the air, still dangerous, the falling knife.
Then by the heel of the father,
there to round the journey
of the viewer's eye,
is the figure that we and Abraham see dead last –
you, ram, in your thicket,
earthen brown, horn hooked
upon a twisted thorn,
the only glimmer there reproach
in your bloodshot eye.

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“In the Alte Pinakothek” appears in Lynn Levin’s poetry collection Fair Creatures of an Hour (Loonfeather, 2009).

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at wpsu dot org slash poetry moment.

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.