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.)
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.