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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In painting her I shrin'd her face
Excerpt from "The Portrait" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
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,
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.