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Pre-Raphaelite Poetry: An Anthology

Pre-Raphaelite Poetry: An Anthology

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by Paul Negri (Editor)

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This outstanding anthology presents the most inspired verse of the the Pre-Raphaelite movement — a treasury of poems that resounds with a lush musicality of language. The poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti crowns this collection: highlights include "The Blessed Damozel," "My Sister's Sleep," and selections from The House of Life. Christina Rossetti


This outstanding anthology presents the most inspired verse of the the Pre-Raphaelite movement — a treasury of poems that resounds with a lush musicality of language. The poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti crowns this collection: highlights include "The Blessed Damozel," "My Sister's Sleep," and selections from The House of Life. Christina Rossetti is amply represented by "Remember," "Cousin Kate," "Song," "The Convent Threshold," and other memorable poems. Algernon Charles Swinburne's "The Garden of Proserpine" and William Morris' "The Haystack in the Floods" appear here, along with George Meredith's "Lucifer by Starlight" and selections from Modern Love.

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Dover Publications
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Pre-Raphaelite Poetry

An Anthology

By Paul Negri

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15381-0




One of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (with Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais) in 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was both a painter and a poet. In both genres, he strove to achieve the Pre-Raphaelite aim of encouraging "an entire adherence to the simplicity of nature." Characterized by a certain opulence and sensuality, which brought critical attacks in his day, Rossetti's poetry is nevertheless admired for its purity and lyricism, richness and vividness of detail, mysticism, fantasy, and frequent use of the modified ballad form. His 101-sonnet sequence, The House of Life, selections from which appear here, contains some of the finest sonnets of the period.

    The Blessed Damozel

    The blessed damozel leaned out
    From the gold bar of Heaven;
    Her eyes were deeper than the depth
    Of waters stilled at even;
    She had three lilies in her hand,
    And the stars in her hair were seven.

    Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
    No wrought flowers did adorn,
    But a white rose of Mary's gift,
    For service meetly worn;
    Her hair that lay along her back
    Was yellow like ripe corn.

    Herseemed she scarce had been a day
    One of God's choristers;
    The wonder was not yet quite gone
    From that still look of hers;
    Albeit, to them she left, her day
    Had counted as ten years.

    (To one, it is ten years of years.
    ... Yet now, and in this place,
    Surely she leaned o'er me—her hair
    Fell all about my face....
    Nothing: the autumn-fall of leaves.
    The whole year sets apace.)

    It was the rampart of God's house
    That she was standing on;
    By God built over the sheer depth
    The which is Space begun;
    So high, that looking downward thence
    She scarce could see the sun.

    It lies in Heaven, across the flood
    Of ether, as a bridge.
    Beneath, the tides of day and night
    With flame and darkness ridge
    The void, as low as where this earth
    Spins like a fretful midge.

    Around her, lovers, newly met
    'Mid deathless love's acclaims,
    Spoke evermore among themselves
    Their heart-remembered names;
    And the souls mounting up to God
    Went by her like thin flames.

    And still she bowed herself and stooped
    Out of the circling charm;
    Until her bosom must have made
    The bar she leaned on warm,
    And the lilies lay as if asleep
    Along her bended arm.

    From the fixed place of Heaven she saw
    Time like a pulse shake fierce
    Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove
    Within the gulf to pierce
    Its path; and now she spoke as when
    The stars sang in their spheres.

    The sun was gone now; the curled moon
    Was like a little feather
    Fluttering far down the gulf; and now
    She spoke through the still weather.
    Her voice was like the voice the stars
    Had when they sang together.

    (Ah sweet! Even now, in that bird's song,
    Strove not her accents there,
    Fain to be hearkened? When those bells
    Possessed the mid-day air,
    Strove not her steps to reach my side
    Down all the echoing stair?)

    "I wish that he were come to me,
    For he will come," she said.
    "Have I not prayed in Heaven?—on earth,
    Lord, Lord, has he not pray'd?
    Are not two prayers a perfect strength?
    And shall I feel afraid?

    "When round his head the aureole clings,
    And he is clothed in white,
    I'll take his hand and go with him
    To the deep wells of light;
    As unto a stream we will step down,
    And bathe there in God's sight.

    "We two will stand beside that shrine,
    Occult, withheld, untrod,
    Whose lamps are stirred continually
    With prayer sent up to God;
    And see our old prayers, granted, melt
    Each like a little cloud.

    "We two will lie i' the shadow of
    That living mystic tree
    Within whose secret growth the Dove
    Is sometimes felt to be,
    While every leaf that His plumes touch
    Saith His Name audibly.

    "And I myself will teach to him,
    I myself, lying so,
    The songs I sing here; which his voice
    Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
    And find some knowledge at each pause,
    Or some new thing to know."

    (Alas! we two, we two, thou say'st!
    Yea, one wast thou with me
    That once of old. But shall God lift
    To endless unity
    The soul whose likeness with thy soul
    Was but its love for thee?)

    "We two," she said, "will seek the groves
    Where the lady Mary is,
    With her five handmaidens, whose names
    Are five sweet symphonies,
    Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
    Margaret and Rosalys.

    "Circlewise sit they, with bound locks
    And foreheads garlanded;
    Into the fine cloth white like flame
    Weaving the golden thread,
    To fashion the birth-robes for them
    Who are just born, being dead.

    "He shall fear, haply, and be dumb;
    Then will I lay my cheek
    To his, and tell about our love,
    Not once abashed or weak:
    And the dear Mother will approve
    My pride, and let me speak.

    "Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
    To Him round whom all souls
    Kneel, the clear-ranged unnumbered heads
    Bowed with their aureoles:
    And angels meeting us shall sing
    To their citherns and citoles.

    "There will I ask of Christ the Lord
    Thus much for him and me:—
    Only to live as once on earth
    With Love,—only to be,
    As then awhile, for ever now
    Together, I and he."

    She gazed and listened and then said,
    Less sad of speech than mild,—
    "All this is when he comes." She ceased.
    The light thrilled towards her, fill'd
    With angels in strong level flight.
    Her eyes prayed, and she smil'd.

    (I saw her smile.) But soon their path
    Was vague in distant spheres:
    And then she cast her arms along
    The golden barriers,
    And laid her face between her hands,
    And wept. (I heard her tears.)

    My Sister's Sleep

    She fell asleep on Christmas Eve.
    At length the long-ungranted shade
    Of weary eyelids overweigh'd
    The pain nought else might yet relieve.

    Our mother, who had leaned all day
    Over the bed from chime to chime,
    Then raised herself for the first time,
    And as she sat her down, did pray.

    Her little work-table was spread
    With work to finish. For the glare
    Made by her candle, she had care
    To work some distance from the bed.

    Without, there was a cold moon up,
    Of winter radiance sheer and thin;
    The hollow halo it was in
    Was like an icy crystal cup.

    Through the small room, with subtle sound
    Of flame, by vents the fireshine drove
    And reddened. In its dim alcove
    The mirror shed a clearness round.

    I had been sitting up some nights,
    And my tired mind felt weak and blank;
    Like a sharp strengthening wine it drank
    The stillness and the broken lights.

    Twelve struck. That sound, by dwindling years
    Heard in each hour, crept off; and then
    The ruffled silence spread again,
    Like water that a pebble stirs.

    Our mother rose from where she sat:
    Her needles, as she laid them down,
    Met lightly, and her silken gown
    Settled: no other noise than that.

    "Glory unto the Newly Born!"
    So, as said angels, she did say:
    Because we were in Christmas Day,
    Though it would still be long till morn.

    Just then in the room over us
    There was a pushing back of chairs,
    As some who had sat unawares
    So late, now heard the hour, and rose.

    With anxious softly-stepping haste
    Our mother went where Margaret lay,
    Fearing the sounds o'erhead—should they
    Have broken her long watched-for rest!

    She stooped an instant, calm, and turned;
    But suddenly turned back again;
    And all her features seemed in pain
    With woe, and her eyes gazed and yearned.

    For my part, I but hid my face,
    And held my breath, and spoke no word:
    There was none spoken; but I heard
    The silence for a little space.

    Our mother bowed herself and wept:
    And both my arms fell, and I said,
    "God knows I knew that she was dead."
    And there, all white, my sister slept.

    Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn
    A little after twelve o'clock,
    We said, ere the first quarter struck,
    "Christ's blessing on the newly born!"

    The Portrait

    This is her picture as she was:
    It seems a thing to wonder on,
    As though mine image in the glass
    Should tarry when myself am gone.
    I gaze until she seems to stir,—
    Until mine eyes almost aver
    That now, even now, the sweet lips part
    To breathe the words of the sweet heart:—
    And yet the earth is over her.

    Alas! even such the thin-drawn ray
    That makes the prison-depths more rude,—
    The drip of water night and day
    Giving a tongue to solitude.
    Yet only this, of love's whole prize,
    Remains; save what in mournful guise
    Takes counsel with my soul alone,—
    Save what is secret and unknown,
    Below the earth, above the skies.

    In painting her I shrined her face
    'Mid mystic trees, where light falls in
    Hardly at all; a covert place
    Where you might think to find a din
    Of doubtful talk, and a live flame
    Wandering, and many a shape whose name
    Not itself knoweth, and old dew,
    And your own footsteps meeting you,
    And all things going as they came.

    A deep dim wood; and there she stands
    As in that wood that day: for so
    Was the still movement of her hands
    And such the pure line's gracious flow.
    And passing fair the type must seem,
    Unknown the presence and the dream.
    'Tis she: though of herself, alas!
    Less than her shadow on the grass
    Or than her image in the stream.

    That day we met there, I and she
    One with the other all alone;
    And we were blithe; yet memory
    Saddens those hours, as when the moon
    Looks upon daylight. And with her
    I stooped to drink the spring-water,
    Athirst where other waters sprang:
    And where the echo is, she sang,—
    My soul another echo there.

    But when that hour my soul won strength
    For words whose silence wastes and kills,
    Dull raindrops smote us, and at length
    Thundered the heat within the hills.
    That eve I spoke those words again
    Beside the pelted window-pane;
    And there she hearkened what I said,
    With under-glances that surveyed
    The empty pastures blind with rain.

    Next day the memories of these things,
    Like leaves through which a bird has flown,
    Still vibrated with Love's warm wings;
    Till I must make them all my own
    And paint this picture. So, 'twixt ease
    Of talk and sweet long silences,
    She stood among the plants in bloom
    At windows of a summer room,
    To feign the shadow of the trees.

    And as I wrought, while all above
    And all around was fragrant air,
    In the sick burthen of my love
    It seemed each sun-thrilled blossom there
    Beat like a heart among the leaves.
    O heart that never beats nor heaves,
    In that one darkness lying still,
    What now to thee my love's great will
    Or the fine web the sunshine weaves?

    For now doth daylight disavow
    Those days—nought left to see or hear.
    Only in solemn whispers now
    At night-time these things reach mine ear;
    When the leaf-shadows at a breath
    Shrink in the road, and all the heath,
    Forest and water, far and wide,
    In limpid starlight glorified,
    Lie like the mystery of death.

    Last night at last I could have slept,
    And yet delayed my sleep till dawn,
    Still wandering. Then it was I wept:
    For unawares I came upon
    Those glades where once she walked with me,
    And as I stood there suddenly,
    All wan with traversing the night,
    Upon the desolate verge of light
    Yearned loud the iron-bosomed sea.

    Even so, where Heaven holds breath and hears
    The beating heart of Love's own breast,—
    Where round the secret of all spheres
    All angels lay their wings to rest,—
    How shall my soul stand rapt and awed,
    When, by the new birth borne abroad
    Throughout the music of the suns,
    It enters in her soul at once
    And knows the silence there for God!

    Here with her face doth memory sit
    Meanwhile, and wait the day's decline,
    Till other eyes shall look from it,
    Eyes of the spirit's Palestine,
    Even than the old gaze tenderer:
    While hopes and aims long lost with her
    Stand round her image side by side,
    Like tombs of pilgrims that have died
    About the Holy Sepulchre.


    Mother of the Fair Delight,
    Thou handmaid perfect in God's sight,
    Now sitting fourth beside the Three,
    Thyself a woman-Trinity,—
    Being a daughter born to God,
    Mother of Christ from stall to rood,
    And wife unto the Holy Ghost:—
    Oh when our need is uttermost,
    Think that to such as death may strike
    Thou once wert sister sisterlike!
    Thou headstone of humanity,
    Groundstone of the great Mystery,
    Fashioned like us, yet more than we!

    Mind'st thou not (when June's heavy breath
    Warmed the long days in Nazareth,)
    That eve thou didst go forth to give
    Thy flowers some drink that they might live
    One faint night more amid the sands?
    Far off the trees were as pale wands
    Against the fervid sky: the sea
    Sighed further off eternally
    As human sorrow sighs in sleep.

    Then suddenly the awe grew deep,
    As of a day to which all days
    Were footsteps in God's secret ways:
    Until a folding sense, like prayer,
    Which is, as God is, everywhere,
    Gathered about thee; and a voice
    Spake to thee without any noise,
    Being of the silence:—"Hail," it said,
    "Thou that art highly favourèd;
    The Lord is with thee here and now;
    Blessed among all women thou."

    Ah! knew'st thou of the end, when first
    That Babe was on thy bosom nurs'd?—
    Or when He tottered round thy knee
    Did thy great sorrow dawn on thee?—
    And through His boyhood, year by year
    Eating with Him the Passover,
    Didst thou discern confusedly
    That holier sacrament, when He,
    The bitter cup about to quaff,
    Should break the bread and eat thereof?—
    Or came not yet the knowledge, even
    Till on some day forecast in Heaven
    His feet passed through thy door to press
    Upon His Father's business?—
    Or still was God's high secret kept?

    Nay, but I think the whisper crept
    Like growth through childhood. Work and play,
    Things common to the course of day,
    Awed thee with meanings unfulfill'd;
    And all through girlhood, something still'd
    Thy senses like the birth of light,
    When thou hast trimmed thy lamp at night
    Or washed thy garments in the stream;
    To whose white bed had come the dream
    That He was thine and thou wast His
    Who feeds among the field-lilies.
    O solemn shadow of the end
    In that wise spirit long contain'd!
    O awful end! and those unsaid
    Long years when It was Finishèd!

    Mind'st thou not (when the twilight gone
    Left darkness in the house of John,)
    Between the naked window-bars
    That spacious vigil of the stars?—
    For thou, a watcher even as they,
    Wouldst rise from where throughout the day
    Thou wroughtest raiment for His poor;
    And, finding the fixed terms endure
    Of day and night which never brought
    Sounds of His coming chariot,
    Wouldst lift through cloud-waste unexplor'd
    Those eyes which said, "How long, O Lord?"
    Then that disciple whom He loved,
    Well heeding, haply would be moved
    To ask thy blessing in His name;
    And that one thought in both, the same
    Though silent, then would clasp ye round
    To weep together,—tears long bound,
    Sick tears of patience, dumb and slow.
    Yet, "Surely I come quickly,"—so
    He said, from life and death gone home.
    Amen: even so, Lord Jesus, come!

    But oh! what human tongue can speak
    That day when Michael came to break
    From the tir'd spirit, like a veil,
    Its covenant with Gabriel
    Endured at length unto the end?
    What human thought can apprehend
    That mystery of motherhood
    When thy Beloved at length renew'd
    The sweet communion severèd,—
    His left hand underneath thine head
    And His right hand embracing thee?—
    Lo! He was thine, and this is He!

    Soul, is it Faith, or Love, or Hope,
    That lets me see her standing up
    Where the light of the Throne is bright?
    Unto the left, unto the right,
    The cherubim, succinct, conjoint,
    Float inward to a golden point,
    And from between the seraphim
    The glory issues for a hymn.
    O Mary Mother, be not loth
    To listen,—thou whom the stars clothe,
    Whoo seëst and mayst not be seen
    Here us at last, O Mary Queen!
    Into our shadow bend thy face,
    Bowing thee from the secret place
    O Mary Virgin, full of grace!


Excerpted from Pre-Raphaelite Poetry by Paul Negri. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Pre-Raphaelite Poetry: An Anthology 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the same person but im a different cat. My mom went to starclan for good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chews up bordock root