Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Echo from Willowwood

This early example of Art Nouveau draughtsmanship was created to illustrate Christina Rossetti's poem An Echo from Willowwood, written in 1870, first published in The Magazine of Art in 1890.

Two gazed into a pool, he gazed and she,
Not hand in hand, yet heart in heart, I think,
Pale and reluctant on the water's brink.
As on the brink of parting which must be.
Each eyed the other's aspect, she and he,
Each felt one hungering heart leap and sink,
Each tasted bitterness which both must drink,
Here on the brink of life's dividing sea.
Lilies upon the surface, deep below
Two wistful faces craving each for each,
Resolute and reluctant without speech:
A sudden ripple made the faces flow
One moment joined, to vanish out of reach:
So those hearts joined, and ah! were parted so.(1)

Christina Rossetti's sonnet is a response to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s four-sonnet sequence titled simply Willowwood. William Michael Rossetti suggested that Christina was referring to Dante Gabriel’s first love; his tragic relationship with Lizzie Siddal. Jan Marsh, on the other hand, thinks that Christina is, in fact, commenting on the blossoming love between Dante Gabriel and Jane Morris, whom the poetess saw as yearning for each other, but doomed to be forever parted.(2) In the 1870's, the relationship between Dante Gabriel and Jane became notorious, which probably explains why Christina did not publish the poem with her 1881 collection.

Presumably, in 1890, either the Magazine of Art or Charles Ricketts requested an unpublished poem from Christina. Evidently, seven year's after her brother’s death, she felt able to offer this particularly personal poem for publication.

1. Christina G. Rossetti, An Echo from Willowwood, 1870
2. Jan Marsh, Christina Rossetti, London 1994, page 391

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