Sibylla Palmifera was painted with the idea of contrasting with the picture of Lady Lilith, the legendary first wife of Adam and a personification of lust in Jewish folklore. Sibylla Palmifera represented ‘Soul’s Beauty’, the title of a sonnet he wrote to accompany the painting. The modestly dressed Sibylla sits in a temple surrounded by the emblems of Love, Death and Mystery, the Cupid, the skull and the sphinx. In contrast, Lilith admires herself in a mirror, the attribute of vanity.
Under the arch of Life, where love and death, Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe, I drew it in as simply as my breath. Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath, The sky and sea bend on thee,—which can draw, By sea or sky or woman, to one law, The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.
This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise Thy voice and hand shake still,—long known to thee By flying hair and fluttering hem,—the beat Following her daily of thy heart and feet, How passionately and irretrievably, In what fond flight, how many ways and days!