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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–82

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 gave 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.

’T is 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 seemed 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.