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The Blessed Damozel -- Dante Gabriel Rossetti

This week's theme - some of Bertie Wooster's oft-quoted poems.
(Poem #715) The Blessed Damozel
 The blessed damozel lean'd out
     From the gold bar of Heaven;
 Her eyes were deeper than the depth
     Of waters still'd 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.

 Her seem'd 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, 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-remember'd names;
 And the souls mounting up to God
     Went by her like thin flames.

 And still she bow'd herself and stoop'd
     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 curl'd 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 hearken'd? When those bells
     Possess'd 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 pray'd 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 cloth'd 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 stirr'd 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, hush'd 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 abash'd 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-rang'd unnumber'd heads
     Bow'd 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 gaz'd and listen'd and then said,
     Less sad of speech than mild, --
 "All this is when he comes." She ceas'd.
     The light thrill'd towards her, fill'd
 With angels in strong level flight.
     Her eyes pray'd, 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.)
-- Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Note:

  The poem was revised for publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine
  in 1856, and again before its appearance in Poems, 1870. Thirty years
  after its first appearance Rossetti told Hall Caine that he had written
  "The Blessed Damozel" as a sequel to Poe's "The Raven" (published in
  1845): ''I saw that Poe had done the utmost it was possible to do with the
  grief of the lover on earth, and so determined to reverse the conditions,
  and give utterance to the yearning of the loved one in heaven." Rossetti's
  early study of Dante, especially the Paradiso, has influenced the general
  conception and many of the details of the poem.

        http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/rossettg2.html

I must admit that, before reading the above, I did not think very much of
today's poem. As the tale of a dead woman yearning for her earth-bound
lover, it leaves me rather cold; again, I am not familiar enough with Dante
to appreciate his influence on 'The Blessed Damozel'. However, the idea of a
sequel to Poe's Raven is intriguing - despite the number of times I've read
the latter, it never occurred to me to flesh out the dead Lenore, or to see
her as anything more than the object of the poet's futile line of questions.
I *still* don't like the poem much, but I do appreciate it more than I used
to <g>.

On the Theme:

  One of Bertie Wooster's more amusing characteristics, as any fan of
  Wodehouse's marvellous series will doubtless agree, is his frequent
  quoting (and misquoting) of fragments of famous poems. I've got a few in
  mind, but feel free to suggest your personal favourites <g>. Also, as
  always, guest poems are welcome. And a further request - if people could
  send in Wodehouse quotes containing lines from the poems (as and when you
  come across them), so that we can append them to the page, I'd be
  eternally grateful.

Links:

  Look up the annotations at
    http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/rossettg2.html

  There's an extensive discussion of the poem at
    http://www.bartleby.com/223/0502.html

  Rossetti's painting in illustration of the poem:
    http://www.hearts-ease.org/gallery/pre-raph/rossetti/1.html

  A bit on the history of "DGR's most important (evolving) textual
  interpretation of his Dantescan inheritance":
    http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/rossetti/poems/1-1847head2.html

  A biography of DGR:
    http://www.thecore.nus.edu.sg/landow/victorian/dgr/dgrseti13.html

  For more on the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood:
    http://www.speel.demon.co.uk/other/prb.htm

  Poe's Raven: poem #85

  And some Wodehouse sites:
    [broken link] http://www.smart.net/~tak/wodehouse.html
    http://www.tiac.net/users/dejesus/jeeves/index.htm

Afterthought:

  Parts of this poem are so reminiscent of Dorothy Parker's 'A Well Worn
  Story'

       Together we trod the secret lane
       And walked the muttering town
       I wore my heart like a wet, red stain
       On the breast of a velvet gown

  that I have to wonder if she was consciously or unconsciously parodying
  it. Either way, here, following the popular Minstrels tradition of letting
  Parker have the last word, is her "D. G. Rossetti":

       Dante Gabriel Rossetti
       Buried all of his libretti,
       Thought the matter over - then
       Went and dug them up again.

m.

19 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

renu said...

really i hats off to rossetti...i luv dis poem much...what a feelingful love ....especially the feelings of lady love really make me get tears....

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