Sonnets for Pictures.
A Virgin and Child, by Hans Memmeling; in the Academy of Bruges.
- Mystery: God, Man's Life, born into man
- Of woman. There abideth on her brow
The ended pang of knowledge, the which now
- Is calm assured. Since first her task began,
She hath known all. What more of anguish than
- Endurance oft hath lived through, the whole space
Through night till night, passed weak upon her face
- While like a heavy flood the darkness ran?
All hath been told her touching her dear Son,
- And all shall be accomplished. Where he sits
- Even now, a babe, he holds the symbol fruit
- Perfect and chosen. Until God permits,
- His soul's elect still have the absolute
- Harsh nether darkness, and make painful moan.
A Marriage of St. Katharine, by
the same; in the Hospital of St. John
- Mystery: Katharine, the bride of Christ.
- She kneels, and on her hand the holy Child
Setteth the ring. Her life is sad and mild,
- Laid in God's knowledge--ever unenticed
From Him, and in the end thus fitly priced.
- Awe, and the music that is near her, wrought
Of Angels, hath possessed her eyes in thought:
- Her utter joy is her's, and hath sufficed.
There is a pause while Mary Virgin turns
- The leaf, and reads. With eyes on the spread book,
- That damsel at her knees reads after her.
John whom He loved and John His harbinger
- Listen and watch. Whereon soe'er thou look,
- The light is starred in gems, and the gold burns.
A Dance of Nymphs, by Andrea Mantegna; in the Louvre.
(*** It is necessary to mention, that this picture would
appear to have been in the artist's mind an allegory, which the modern
spectator may seek vainly to interpret.)
- Scarcely, I think; yet it indeed may be
- The meaning reached him, when this music rang
Sharp through his brain, a distinct rapid pang,
- And he beheld these rocks and that ridg'd sea.
But I believe he just leaned passively,
- And felt their hair carried across his face
As each nymph passed him; nor gave ear to trace
- How many feet; nor bent assuredly
His eyes from the blind fixedness of thought
- To see the dancers. It is bitter glad
- Even unto tears. Its meaning filleth it,
A portion of most secret life: to wit:--
- Each human pulse shall keep the sense it had
- With all, though the mind's labour run to nought.
A Venetian Pastoral, by Giorgione; in the Louvre.
(*** In this picture, two cavaliers and an undraped woman are seated in the
grass, with musical instruments, while another woman dips a vase into a well
hard by, for water.)
- Water, for anguish of the solstice,--yea,
- Over the vessel's mouth still widening
Listlessly dipt to let the water in
- With slow vague gurgle. Blue, and deep away,
The heat lies silent at the brink of day.
- Now the hand trails upon the viol-string
That sobs; and the brown faces cease to sing,
- Mournful with complete pleasure. Her eyes stray
In distance; through her lips the pipe doth creep
- And leaves them pouting; the green shadowed grass
- Is cool against her naked flesh. Let be:
- Do not now speak unto her lest she weep,--
- Nor name this ever. Be it as it was:--
- Silence of heat, and solemn poetry.
"Angelica rescued from
the Sea-monster," by Ingres; in the
- A remote sky, prolonged to the sea's brim:
- One rock-point standing buffetted alone,
Vexed at its base with a foul beast unknown,
- Hell-spurge of geomaunt
A knight, and a winged creature bearing him,
- Reared at the rock: a woman fettered there,
Leaning into the hollow with loose hair
- And throat let back and heartsick trail of limb.
The sky is harsh, and the sea shrewd and salt.
- Under his lord, the griffin-horse ramps blind
- With rigid wings and tail. The spear's lithe stem
- Thrills in the roaring of those jaws: behind,
- The evil length of body chafes at fault.
- She doth not hear nor see--she knows of them.
- Clench thine eyes now,--'tis the last instant, girl:
- Draw in thy senses, set thy knees, and take
One breath for all: thy life is keen awake,--
- Thou may'st not swoon. Was that the scattered whirl
Of its foam drenched thee?--or the waves that curl
- And split, bleak spray wherein thy temples ache?--
Or was it his the champion's blood to flake
- Thy flesh?--Or thine own blood's anointing, girl?....
....Now, silence; for the sea's is such a sound
- As irks not silence; and except the sea,
- All is now still. Now the dead thing doth cease
- To writhe, and drifts. He turns to her: and she
- Cast from the jaws of Death, remains there, bound,
- Again a woman in her nakedness.
Last modified: 26 March 1996