Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blessed Damozel

[Click on image to enlarge] The Blessed Damozel is one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's earliest poems (1846), inspired in part by Edgar Allan Poe's Raven (1845). Since Poe, Rossetti felt, had done the utmost to represent the grief of the lover on earth, Rossetti determined to show the yearning of the loved one in heaven. The painting was done thirty years later, after Rossetti had turned from the flat, intricately patterned illustrations of literary subjects that had characterized his early art (a good example is his drawing for The Lady of Shalott, done for Moxon's Illustrated Tennyson) to huge sensual portraits of women, such as this one. The painting conveys the sensuality and the pictorial details of the poem, but not its medieval quality.

 





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135
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 a 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 lean'd 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, >> note 1 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. >> note 2

Heard hardly, some of her new friends
      Amid their loving games
Spoke evermore among themselves
      Their virginal chaste 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 lean'd on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
      Along her bended arm.

From the fix'd 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.

"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 >> note 3 clings,
      And he is clothed in white,
I'll take his hand and go with him
      To the deep wells of light;
We will step down as to a stream,
      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 I will 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. >> note 4

"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 smiled.

(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.)

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