Elisabeth Siddal

Ophelia (1851-52) 
Oil on canvas (30 x 44 inches) 
Tate Gallery, London

Elisabeth Siddal as Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896)

Ophelia, driven insane by the murder of her father by her lover 
Hamlet, is portrayed singing in her madness as she drowns.  
Millaisí model was Elizabeth Siddal, who was lying in a bath of 
cold water, so that he could base the drowning Ophelia on natural 
observation.  Afterwards, 'Lizzie' became seriously ill.
The pre-raphaelite artists filled their paintings often with 
the allegorical language of flowers and the natural world.  
Here Ophelia floats under the branches of a weeping willow 
surrounded by poppies and violets.  A willow is a symbol of new life, 
but a 'weeping willow' is rather a symbol of sorrow.  Poppies are 
symbols of death and violets are symbols of faithfulness. 

A Silent Wood

              O silent wood, I enter thee
             With a heart so full of misery
              For all the voices from the trees
            And the ferns that cling about my knees.

            In thy darkest shadow let me sit
           When the grey owls about thee flit;
            There will I ask of thee a boon,
          That I may not faint or die or swoon.

            Gazing through the gloom like one
           Whose life and hopes are also done,
              Frozen like a thing of stone
          I sit in thy shadow Ė but not alone.

      Can God bring back the day when we two stood
      Beneath the clinging trees in that dark wood?

            A Year and a Day

      Slow days have passed that make a year,
             Slow hours that make a day,
        Since I could take my first dear love
              And kiss him the old way;
     Yet the green leaves touch me on the cheek,
           Dear Christ, this month of May.

          I lie among the tall green grass
              That bends above my head
            And covers up my wasted face
               And folds me in its bed
                Tenderly and lovingly
             Like grass above the dead.

           Dim phantoms of an unknown ill
            Float through my tired brain;
           The unformed visions of my life
              Pass by in ghostly train;
        Some pause to touch me on the cheek,
            Some scatter tears like rain.

           A shadow falls along the grass
               And lingers at my feet;
         A new face lies between my hands Ė
            Dear Christ, if I could weep
         Tears to shut out the summer leaves
             When this new face I greet.

             Still it is but the memory
              Of something I have seen
            In the dreamy summer weather
         When the green leaves come between:
         The shadow of my dear loveís face Ė
            So far and strange it seems.

             The river ever running down
               Between its grassy bed,
           The voices of a thousand birds
              That clang above my head,
          Shall bring to me a sadder dream
            When this sad dream is dead.

            A silence falls upon my heart
              And hushes all its pain.
        I stretch my hands in the long grass
              And fall to sleep again,
           There to lie empty of all love
             Like beaten corn of grain.

            At Last

           O mother, open the window wide
              And let the daylight in;
          The hills grow darker to my sight
             And thoughts begin to swim.

         And mother dear, take my young son,
             (Since I was born of thee)
          And care for all his little ways
             And nurse him on thy knee.

         And mother, wash my pale pale hands
              And then bind up my feet;
            My body may no longer rest
              Out of its winding sheet.

        And mother dear, take a sapling twig
             And green grass newly mown,
            And lay them on my empty bed
            That my sorrow be not known.

         And mother, find three berries red
           And pluck them from the stalk,
         And burn them at the first cockcrow
            That my spirit may not walk.

       And mother dear, break a willow wand, 
               And if the sap be even,
        Then save it for sweet Robertís sake
         And heíll know my soulís in heaven.

        And mother, when the big tears fall,
           (And fall, God knows, they may)
          Tell him I died of my great love
             And my dying heart was gay.

        And mother dear, when the sun has set
           And the pale kirk grass waves,
       Then carry me through the dim twilight
            And hide me among the graves.

            Dead Love

         Oh never weep for love thatís dead
              Since love is seldom true
      But changes his fashion from blue to red,
             From brightest red to blue,
         And love was born to an early death
               And is so seldom true.

      Then harbour no smile on your bonny face
              To win the deepest sigh.
          The fairest words on truest lips
              Pass on and surely die,
        And you will stand alone, my dear,
           When wintry winds draw nigh.

       Sweet, never weep for what cannot be,
            For this God has not given.
       If the merest dream of love were true
       Then, sweet, we should be in heaven,
         And this is only earth, my dear,
           Where true love is not given.

      Early Death

     Oh grieve not with thy bitter tears
         The life that passes fast;
     The gates of heaven will open wide
           And take me in at last.

       Then sit down meekly at my side
        And watch my young life flee;
       Then solemn peace of holy death
           Come quickly unto thee.

      But true love, seek me in the throng
          Of spirits floating past,
      And I will take thee by the hands
         And know thee mine at last.

         He and She and Angels Three

        Ruthless hands have torn her
        From one that loved her well;
           Angels have upborn her,
          Christ her grief to tell.

        She shall stand to listen,
          She shall stand and sing,
          Till three winged angels
        Her loverís soul shall bring.

       He and she and the angels three
       Before Godís face shall stand;
   There they shall pray among themselves
         And sing at His right hand.

      Fragment of a Ballad

     Many a mile over land and sea
       Unsummoned my love returned to me
        I remember not the words he said
     But only the trees moaning overhead.
         And he came ready to take and bea
     The cross I had carried for many a year,
         But words came slowly one by one
      From frozen lips shut still and dumb.
          How sounded my words so still and slow
       To the great strong heart that loved me so,
          Who came to save me from pain and wrong
       And to comfort me with his love so strong?
            I felt the wind strike chill and cold
        And vapours rise from the red-brown mould;
            I felt the spell that held my breath
         Bending me down to a living death.


      To touch the glove upon her tender hand,
       To watch the jewel sparkle in her ring,
         Lifted my heart into a sudden song
            As when the wild birds sing.

       To touch her shadow on the sunny grass,
   To break her pathway through the darkened wood,
        Filled all my life with trembling and tears
             And silence where I stood.

     I watch the shadows gather round my heart,
        I live to know that she is gone Ė 
     Gone gone for ever, like the tender dove
             That left the Ark alone.

      Lord May I Come?

         Life and night are falling from me,
          Death and day are opening on me,
         Wherever my footsteps come and go,
             Life is a stony way of woe.
              Lord, have I long to go?

           Hallow hearts are ever near me,
       Soulless eyes have ceased to cheer me:
              Lord may I come to thee?

          Life and youth and summer weather
           To my heart no joy can gather.
        Lord, lift me from lifeís stony way!
    Loved eyes long closed in death watch for me:
           Holy death is waiting for me Ė 
              Lord, may I come to-day?

        My outward life feels sad and still
           Like lilies in a frozen rill;
          I am gazing upwards to the sun,
       Lord, Lord, remembering my lost one.
               O Lord, remember me!
          How is it in the unknown land?
         Do the dead wander hand in hand?
            God, give me trust in thee.

         Do we clasp dead hands and quiver
           With an endless joy for ever?
        Do tall white angels gaze and wend
        Along the banks where lilies bend?
        Lord, we know not how this may be:
       Good Lord we put our faith in thee Ė 
                O God, remember me.

      Love and Hate

         Open not thy lips, thou foolish one,
              Nor turn to me thy face;
    The blasts of heaven shall strike thee down
             Ere I will give thee grace.

         Take thou thy shadow from my path,
              Nor turn to me and pray;
       The wild wild winds thy dirge may sing
              Ere I will bid thee stay.

         Turn thou away thy false dark eyes,
              Nor gaze upon my face;
      Great love I bore thee: now great hate
             Sits grimly in its place.

         All changes pass me like a dream,
             I neither sing nor pray;
       And thou art like the poisonous tree
             That stole my life away.

      The Lust of the Eyes

         I care not for my Ladyís soul
       Though I worship before her smile;
       I care not where be my Ladyís goal
      When her beauty shall lose its wile.

        Low sit I down at my Ladyís feet
          Gazing through her wild eyes
     Smiling to think how my love will fleet
        When their starlike beauty dies.

           I care not if my Lady pray
       To our Father which is in Heaven
    But for joy my heartís quick pulses play
         For to me her love is given.

      Then who shall close my Ladyís eyes
         And who shall fold her hands?
         Will any hearken if she cries
            Up to the unknown lands.

      The Passing of Love

       O God, forgive me that I ranged
       My live into a dream of love!
     Will tears of anguish never wash
        The passion from my blood?

   Love kept my heart in a song of joy,
      My pulses quivered to the tune;
     The coldest blasts of winter blew
     Upon me like sweet airs in June.

    Love floated on the mists of morn
      And rested on the sunsetís rays;
    He calmed the thunder of the storm
        And lighted all my ways.

   Love held me joyful through the day
   And dreaming ever through the night;
     No evil thing could come to me,
         My spirit was so light.

     O Heaven help my foolish heart
    Which heeded not the passing time
   That dragged my idol from its place
      And shattered all its shrine.

      Shepherd Turned Sailor

     Now Christ ye save yon bonny shepherd
              Sailing on the sea;
     Ten thousand souls are sailing there
           But they belong to Thee.
        If he is lost then all is lost
            And all is dead to me.

    My love should have a grey head-stonee
          And green moss at his feet
      And clinging grass above his breast
       Whereon his lambs could bleat,
     And I should know the span of earth
        Where some day I might sleep.

      True Love

        Farewell, Earl Richard,
           Tender and brave;
            Kneeling I kiss
       The dust from thy grave.

         Pray for me, Richard,
              Lying alone
    With hands pleading earnestly,
          All in white stone.

        Soon must I leave thee
      This sweet summer tide;
        That other is waiting
      To claim his pale bride.

      Soon Iíll return to thee
         Hopeful and brave,
        When the dead leaves
        Blow over thy grave.

       Then shall they find me
          Close at thy head
        Watching or fainting,
          Sleeping or dead.


          Autumn leaves are falling
           About her new-made grave
     Where the tall grass bends to listen
          To the murmur of the wave.

          Laden autumn, here I stand
        With my sheaves in either hand;
       Speak the word that sets me free,
       Naught but rest seems good to me.

       Worn Out

        Thy strong arms are around me, love
             My head is on thy breast;
        Low words of comfort come from thee
             Yet my soul has no rest.

           For I am but a startled thing
                 Nor can I ever be
        Aught save a bird whose broken wing
             Must fly away from thee.

          I cannot give to thee the love
               I gave so long ago,
     The love that turned and struck me down
             Amid the blinding snow.

         I can but give a failing heart
             And weary eyes of pain,
         A faded mouth that cannot smile
            And may not laugh again.

      Yet keep thine arms around me, love,
             Until I fall to sleep;
        Then leave me, saying no goodbye
           Lest I make wake, and weep.

Elisabeth Siddal (1829 - 1862)

Lizzie Sidall by D. Rossetti

In painting her I shrin'd her face
Mid mystic trees, where light falls in
Hardly at all; a covert place
Where you might think to find a din
Of doubtful talk, and a live flame
Wandering, and many a shape whose name
Not itself knoweth, and old dew,
And your own footsteps meeting you,
And all things going as they came.

Excerpt from "The Portrait" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elisabeth Siddal - Her paintings

The Nativity

'The Quest of the Holy Grail'
Sir Galahad at the Shrine of the Holy Grail (1855-57)

Elisabeth Siddal - Selfportrait


Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal's family had once been prominent, 
but she was working as a milliner and a dressmaker. 'Lizzie' 
was of rare beauty, and for years a source of inspiration 
to the little band of artists known as the Pre-Raphaelite 
Brotherhood. She was introduced as a model by the age of 20, 
sitting to Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt and John 
Everett Millais. By the time Millais was painting her 
as Ophelia, Dante Rossetti was fallen in love with her. 
His sister Christina wrote "In An Artist's Studio" about her.  
The Pygmalion aspect of the poem is particuarly interesting.

One face looks out from all his canvases,
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 canvas 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 joyful 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.

Christina Rossetti

Siddal's delicate health was evident from the beginning.  
It has been speculated she was anorexic and had tuberculosis.  
Later, the opiate laudanum was prescribed for her, because 
she was also unhappy and depressed.
Siddal tried to be a successful artist though. Dante Rossetti 
encouraged her painting and poetry, even collaborating with 
her from time to time.  It's evident she was more than a dumb 
stunner for she was interested in literature and could draw 
and write poetry. She used images from Shakespeare, the Bible 
and balladeers. Her favorite poet was Tennyson.
Although Lizzie Siddal produced mediocre paintings, due 
to his adoration of her, Rossetti labeled her a creative genius.
In 1855 she visited Paris and Nice mainly for the sake of 
her health.
Lizzie Siddal and Rossetti had been engaged for seven years 
and they finally married in 1860. A year into the marriage, she 
gave birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter. 
Lizzie sank lower into laudanum and depression. 
A few months later she became pregnant again, but this one 
was terminated by her suicide on the night of February 10th 
1862. Siddal had taken an overdose of laudanum, while Dante 
Rossetti was probably with one of his mistresses.
In 1869, her body was exhumed so that her husband could salvage the poetry he'd impulsively put in her coffin. This caused a huge scandal. The love poems had not the expected literary success and the whole episode haunted Dante Rossetti for the rest of his life.
Gaston D'Haese


Lizzie Siddal
In het Nederlands

Dante Rossetti

Rossetti's Stunners

Dante Rossetti
In het Nederlands

Christina Rossetti
Goblin Market

Christina Rossetti
Religious poems

Christina Rossetti
In het Nederlands


Pageviews since 21-03-2002. 
© 13-12-2003 by Gaston D'Haese.
Update 11-11-2019.

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