Namque videbat, uti bellantes Pergama circum
hac fugerent Graii, premeret Troiana iuventus,
hac Phryges, instaret curru cristatus Achilles.
Nec procul hinc Rhesi niveis tentoria velis
adgnoscit lacrimans, primo quae prodita somno
Tydides multa vastabat caede cruentus,
ardentisque avertit equos in castra, prius quam
pabula gustassent Troiae Xanthumque bibissent.
I won't reproduce these efforts here, because I think that the same thing is wrong with all of them—each poem uses words in a highly inefficient and inelegant way, putting them to a task for which they are singularly unqualified. De la Mare writes in old-fashioned rhymes and turns, Williams and Langland in free verse; but it doesn't matter—they're all telling us what they see, and unfortunately, that's pretty much the same as what we see, only without the beauty of the original painting. None of them tells us what is beautiful about it—whether the subtle, expansive colouring, or the perfect interplay between receding detail and obscurity, or the bitter accentuation of the snow by silhouette in thick masses.
What elements of each poem can't be derived from a glance at Brueghel himself? De la Mare weeps so poignantly about 'him / Who squandered here life's mystery', when it is De la Mare who has squandered Brueghel's mystery. Berryman spews out some hackneyed lines about the 'sandy time / To come. . . when all their company/ Will have been irrevocably lost', about the moment in time captured for posterity. Williams numbly musters a reference to Brueghel as 'the painter / concerned with it all'. And Langland prattles vapidly on about form: 'neutral evening of indeterminate form', 'the fabulous hour of shape and form'. It's all so wet. Why does poetry have to be so bloody wet?
Update: at least one kudo to my correspondent R, who noticed that Hunters in the Snow is in fact painted on wood panel, not canvas. It was just a test, of course. Also, I continue my critique of ekphrasis here, and Gawain develops my argument in his own inimitable way here. Look ma, they're talking about me!