The Portrait

Original Text: 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poems (Boston: Roberts Bros., 1870). PR 5240 E70 ROBA. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poems (London: Ellis and White, 1881). end R677 A155 1881 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto)
2      It seems a thing to wonder on,
3As though mine image in the glass
4      Should tarry when myself am gone.
5I gaze until she seems to stir,--
6Until mine eyes almost aver
7      That now, even now, the sweet lips part
8      To breathe the words of the sweet heart:--
9And yet the earth is over her.
10Alas! even such the thin-drawn ray
11      That makes the prison-depths more rude,--
12The drip of water night and day
13      Giving a tongue to solitude.
14Yet only this, of love's whole prize,
15Remains; save what in mournful guise
16      Takes counsel with my soul alone,--
17      Save what is secret and unknown,
18Below the earth, above the skies.
19In painting her I shrin'd her face
20      Mid mystic trees, where light falls in
21Hardly at all; a covert place
22      Where you might think to find a din
23Of doubtful talk, and a live flame
24Wandering, and many a shape whose name
25      Not itself knoweth, and old dew,
26      And your own footsteps meeting you,
27And all things going as they came.
28A deep dim wood; and there she stands
29      As in that wood that day: for so
30Was the still movement of her hands
31      And such the pure line's gracious flow.
32And passing fair the type must seem,
33Unknown the presence and the dream.
34      'Tis she: though of herself, alas!
35      Less than her shadow on the grass
36Or than her image in the stream.
37That day we met there, I and she
38      One with the other all alone;
39And we were blithe; yet memory
40      Saddens those hours, as when the moon
41Looks upon daylight. And with her
42I stoop'd to drink the spring-water,
43      Athirst where other waters sprang;
44      And where the echo is, she sang,--
45My soul another echo there.
46But when that hour my soul won strength
47      For words whose silence wastes and kills,
48Dull raindrops smote us, and at length
49      Thunder'd the heat within the hills.
50That eve I spoke those words again
51Beside the pelted window-pane;
52      And there she hearken'd what I said,
53      With under-glances that survey'd
54The empty pastures blind with rain.
55Next day the memories of these things,
56      Like leaves through which a bird has flown,
57Still vibrated with Love's warm wings;
58      Till I must make them all my own
59And paint this picture. So, 'twixt ease
60Of talk and sweet long silences,
61      She stood among the plants in bloom
62      At windows of a summer room,
63To feign the shadow of the trees.
64And as I wrought, while all above
65      And all around was fragrant air,
66In the sick burthen of my love
67      It seem'd each sun-thrill'd blossom there
68Beat like a heart among the leaves.
69O heart that never beats nor heaves,
70      In that one darkness lying still,
71      What now to thee my love's great will
72Or the fine web the sunshine weaves?
73For now doth daylight disavow
74      Those days,--nought left to see or hear.
75Only in solemn whispers now
76      At night-time these things reach mine ear;
77When the leaf-shadows at a breath
78Shrink in the road, and all the heath,
79      Forest and water, far and wide,
80      In limpid starlight glorified,
81Lie like the mystery of death.
82Last night at last I could have slept,
83      And yet delay'd my sleep till dawn,
84Still wandering. Then it was I wept:
85      For unawares I came upon
86Those glades where once she walk'd with me:
87And as I stood there suddenly,
88      All wan with traversing the night,
89      Upon the desolate verge of light
90Yearn'd loud the iron-bosom'd sea.
91Even so, where Heaven holds breath and hears
92      The beating heart of Love's own breast,--
93Where round the secret of all spheres
94      All angels lay their wings to rest,--
95How shall my soul stand rapt and aw'd,
96When, by the new birth borne abroad
97      Throughout the music of the suns,
98      It enters in her soul at once
99And knows the silence there for God!
100Here with her face doth memory sit
101      Meanwhile, and wait the day's decline,
102Till other eyes shall look from it,
103      Eyes of the spirit's Palestine,
104Even than the old gaze tenderer:
105While hopes and aims long lost with her
106      Stand round her image side by side,
107      Like tombs of pilgrims that have died
108About the Holy Sepulchre.


1] Not published until 1870 in Rossetti's volume, Poems. According to William Michael Rossetti, the incident recorded in the poem is purely imaginary. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Margaret Frances (Sister St. Francis) Nims
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.267.