Saturday, June 23, 2007

Before The Mirror

Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl 1864
James Abbot Mc Neill Whistler 1834-1903
Oil on canvas
painting N03418

This is a comparatively early work by Whistler, in which echoes of the style of Millais and Rossetti can still be observed. The fan, the blue and white vase and the flowers, however, reflect Whistler’s new-found enthusiasm for things Japanese. The model was his Irish mistress Joanna Hiffernan. Swinburne was inspired to write his poem Before the Mirror by this picture, finding in ‘the face languidly contemplative of its own phantom’ a ‘sad and glad mystery’.

Before the Mirror
By Algernon Charles Swinburne

WHITE ROSE in red rose-garden
Is not so white;
Snowdrops that plead for pardon
And pine for fright
Because the hard East blows
Over their maiden rows
Grow not as this face grows from pale to bright.
Behind the veil, forbidden,
Shut up from sight,
Love, is there sorrow hidden,
Is there delight?
Is joy thy dower or grief,
White rose of weary leaf,
Late rose whose life is brief, whose loves are light?
Soft snows that hard winds harden
Till each flake bite
Fill all the flowerless garden
Whose flowers took flight
Long since when summer ceased,
And men rose up from feast,
And warm west wind grew east, and warm day night.

“Come snow, come wind or thunder
High up in air,I watch my face, and wonder
At my bright hair;Nought else exalts or grieves
The rose at heart, that heaves
With love of her own leaves and lips that pair.
“She knows not loves that kissed her
She knows not where.
Art thou the ghost, my sister,
White sister there,
Am I the ghost, who knows?
My hand, a fallen rose,
Lies snow-white on white snows, and takes no care.
“I cannot see what pleasures
Or what pains were;
What pale new loves and treasures
New years will bear;
What beam will fall, what shower,
What grief or joy for dower;
But one thing knows the flower; the flower is fair.”

Glad, but not flushed with gladness,
Since joys go by;
Sad, but not bent with sadness,
Since sorrows die;Deep in the gleaming glass
She sees all past things pass,
And all sweet life that was lie down and lie.
There glowing ghosts of flowers
Draw down, draw nigh;
And wings of swift spent hours
Take flight and fly;
She sees by formless gleams,
She hears across cold streams,
Dead mouths of many dreams that sing and sigh.
Face fallen and white throat lifted,
With sleepless eye
She sees old loves that drifted,
She knew not why,
Old loves and faded fears
Float down a stream that hears
The flowing of all men’s tears beneath the sky.

I hope you all are having a safe and happy weekend!

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N Posted by Rain at 6/23/2007 11:22:00 PM


  • Blogger Brian posted at 12:50 AM  
    I'm having a great weekend and hope you are too!
  • Anonymous kip152 posted at 7:27 AM  
    Wow, that was awesome!
  • Anonymous Rav`N posted at 6:56 PM  
    I like the poem. its very sad but also very beautiful
  • Blogger choochoo posted at 8:27 AM  
    that's a beautiful painting. If I was 20 years younger, I would spend most of today pretending to be her:)
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