The Portrait

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882
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 shrin'd 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 stoop'd 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
         Thunder'd the heat within the hills.
That eve I spoke those words again
Beside the pelted window-pane;
         And there she hearken'd what I said,
         With under-glances that survey'd
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 seem'd each sun-thrill'd 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 delay'd my sleep till dawn,
Still wandering. Then it was I wept:
         For unawares I came upon
Those glades where once she walk'd with me:
And as I stood there suddenly,
         All wan with traversing the night,
         Upon the desolate verge of light
Yearn'd loud the iron-bosom'd 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 aw'd,
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.

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Poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Men & Women, Trees & Flowers, Sorrow & Grieving, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Painting & Sculpture, Nature, Love, Living, Romantic Love, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Simile, Rhymed Stanza

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Biography

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born 12 May 1828 in London, the second child and eldest son of Italian expatriates. His father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a Dante scholar, who had been exiled from Naples for writing poetry in support of the Neapolitan Constitution of 1819. Rossetti’s mother had trained as a governess and supervised her children's early education. Few Victorian families were as gifted as the Rossettis: the oldest child, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Men & Women, Trees & Flowers, Sorrow & Grieving, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Painting & Sculpture, Nature, Love, Living, Romantic Love, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Simile, Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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