posted by Candace on .
Respond to the question presented by the poet.
"..if there were a fire in a museum which would you save, a Rembrandt painting or an old woman who hadn't many years left anyhow?" Explain your answer.
In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
If there were a fire in a museum
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who hadn't many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we'd opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother's face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.
This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter—the browns of earth,
though earth's most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond saving by children.
My answer is that I would save the old woman because just because she may not have many years to live, the painting could be painting again and have it look the same. Do you think my answer is good enough? Which one whould you choose?
I would clarify your reasoning by saying that the old woman is a living being and therefore more worth saving than an inanimate object.
I think I would rescue the painting. It will last for centuries, an infinite gift and learning for generations. The old lady is finite and although human and may still be able to be a gift, will not last.