Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sibylla
Sibylla Palmifera (1866),
or "palm-bearing sibyl," was later
published under the title Soul's Beauty in
Rossetti's sonnet sequence The House
of Life (1870). Sibyls are prophetesses;
one of them, the Sibyl of Cumae, wrote her
prophecies on palm leaves. The poem was composed
to explicate the painting, describing the
concept of beauty that Rossetti embodies
in his female portraits. Rossetti seems to
have gotten the idea of pairing this portrait
with his painting of Lady
Lilith in order to show two types
of female beauty, each with its dangers and
allures, after both were completed.
the arch of life, where love and death,
Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw
Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck
I drew it in as simply as my breath.
Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath
The sky and sea bend on thee, — which
By sea or sky or woman, to one law,
The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.
This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
Thy voice and hand shake still, — long
known to thee
hair and fluttering hem, — the beat
her daily of thy heart and feet,
How passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days!