(Poem #1712) In an Artist's Studio
One face looks out from all his canvasses, One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans; We found her hidden just behind those screens, That mirror gave back all her loveliness. A queen in opal or in ruby dress, A nameless girl in freshest summer greens, A saint, an angel;--every canvass means The same one meaning, neither more nor less. He feeds upon her face by day and night, And she with true kind eyes looks back on him Fair as the moon and joyfull as the light; Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim; Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright; Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
Note: 'canvass' is an archaic spelling, but appears (as far as I can tell from online reproductions of the poem) to be the one Rossetti used. On first reading this poem, it struck me as a rather Shakespearean sonnet, in spirit if not in form. A common sentiment, a nice but unsurprising poem written around it. However, a second reading drew me to focus on the lines Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim; Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright; and I have to wonder - was she wan with waiting for the artist to look up from his dreams and his canvas, and see her as she was? Rossetti seems to be taking the common "forever see your beloved as they were" cliche and subjecting it to a long, hard look, in a poem that is far less romantic than it appears. martin