In his poem, “The Painter,” John Ashbery plays with the rigid form of the sestina to comment on the relationship between an artist, his work, and his audience. For example, Ashbery defines certain important words in his first stanza, writing, “Sitting between the sea and the buildings / He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait. / But just as children imagine a prayer / Is merely silence, he expected his subject / To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush, / Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.” The repeated end words of Ashbery’s sestina are “buildings,” “portrait,” “prayer,” “subject,” “brush,” and “canvas.” All the words seem to relate to an artist’s means of production (brush and canvas), inspiration (prayer and subject), finished work (portrait), or assumed audience (buildings). Ashbery’s stanza seems to put boundaries to these domains; the artist’s definite place is between the sea and buildings. The portrait is of the sea. There is the hoped-for system of inspiration (the sea) “plastering” itself on the canvas to create the work, almost removing the need for an artist. As the sestina continues, though the end words stay the same in their rigid, defining quality, Ashbery’s “Painter” wishes seemingly for a change in inspiration, murmuring, “My soul, when I paint this next portrait / Let it be you who wrecks the canvas.” Here it seems that the painter cannot decide whether his painting springs from the painted subject itself or from his own mind, and so “Finally all indications of a subject / began to fade, leaving the canvas / perfectly white.” So it seems that the artist’s worrying over how and from where his work is painted prevents it from ever being created anyway; and so finally, Ashbery’s last stanza presents, “They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of buildings; / And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush / As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.” The form of the sestina allows this last stanza to present the previously defined end words as, not clear and stark as they were before, but seemingly all jumbled confusingly into each other, as the artist is even described as his own portrait. It seems that Ashbery here comments on the value of trying to define separate cogs of an art machine; perhaps art is not meant to be compartmentalized and examined as a system of working parts, but should instead be understood as a fused conglomerative effort of artist, work, and subject, with each contributing a vital and irreplaceable part that makes a greater whole. Ashbery’s sestina form allows him to approximate these states, representing the rigid, defined art, as well as the jumble.