Night before last I ordered a special present for myself and my home, a canvas print of Love Leading the Pilgrim by Edward Burne-Jones. It was the last painting he finished. He dedicated it to Algernon Swinburne, my chief poetry teacher. The image is of Love leading a robed figure out of a thicket of thorns. This theme is a large part of what my work is about, especially the long middle passage of the ‘brainiac amour’ I was involved in for a number of years.
The print is already here! It must have flown by its own power. I can tell it is what was missing from the room where I will hang it, as it already seems as if it had been there all along. We will see what comes of this very happy change.
When I was 16, I found a book of paintings by the English Pre-Raphaelites, and that was it for me. I already admired the poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but was not familiar with his paintings or those of his cohort. Several of them, especially Burne-Jones, became beloved. To this day I have not wandered far, even though I was married to a painter who introduced me to many other artists. The mid to late Victorians had a sense of the world to come, with automation everywhere and all that it implies–the destruction of an ancient social fabric as well as large swathes of the natural world. This is reflected in their work, though it is not often addressed directly. There is so much foreboding–it shows in their characters’ eyes.
Swinburne was my Teacher, in pages and in vivid dreams. He taught me so much that turned out to be classically influenced that when I studied Classics later, the prosody was already half-familiar. He also taught me about the drives behind the poetry, especially the sway of Eros, and what happens when it is blighted. That runs behind so much poetry, by many poets. He taught me to be more sensitive to what lies behind and between the written words.
Today’s main work is done, and it also brought a lyric related to a story I shared yesterday. This is how it appears in the Book of Pertinax:
Call and Response
The woman thought sadly, Is endless recursion after all the point of the story of stories? Why? Why find meaning in that, and how? Immediately she heard,
The goldfish in the marble moves its gills.
The Moon will rise and set inside the Well.
I haven’t any eyes, and yet they fill
with secret tears impossible to tell.
You gaze into the eyes that are not there
and fall so deep, the understory spell
that captures you is longer than the stare–
that keeps the goldfish in a living hell.