James H. Schneider
Rembrandt’s Dog
(on an etching in the Rijksmuseum)

In the etching Rembrandt made from
his own painting, ‘The Good Samaritan’,
a servant supports the bandaged victim on
a horse, while his rescuer pays the innkeeper
for the man’s care. A fellow in a cap watches
from a window, but the stout woman bending
over a well minds her own business. A dog
squats in the foreground, doing what dogs do.

It seems Rembrandt made the etching
for himself — the painting has no dog
in it. If there were, can’t you just see
a plump merchant in black silk, wearing
a wide-brimmed feathered hat, spluttering,
Why should I pay good guilders for
a work with such a filthy detail?
What does this young artist mean?

Could it be that in real life you may
regret helping others? That they might
pester you for more handouts? The burgher,
puffing on his pipe, might well ponder this.
Or could being kind to someone in need be
as natural as a man looking out a window,
as common as a woman drawing water,
as ordinary as a dog easing itself?