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  • Ana Savković

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Praying in Heaven

The Blessed Damozel

The blessed Damozel leaned out

From the gold bar of Heaven;

Her eyes were deeper than the depth

Of waters stilled at even;

She had three lilies in her hand,

And the stars in her hair were seven.

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,

No wrought flowers did adorn,

But a white rose of Mary’s gift

For service meetly worn;

And her hair lying down her back

Was yellow like ripe corn.

Herseemed she scarce had been a day

One of God’s choristers;

The wonder was not yet quite gone

From that still look of hers;

Albeit to them she left, her day

Had counted as ten years.

(To one it is ten years of years.

…Yet now, and in this place,

Surely she leaned o’er me – her hair

Fell all about my face…

Nothing: the Autumn fall of leaves.

The whole year sets apace.)

It was the rampart of God’s house

That she was standing on;

By God built over the sheer depth

The which is Space begun;

So high, that looking downward thence

She scarce could see the sun.

It lies in Heaven, across the flood

Of ether, as a bridge.

Beneath, the tides of day and night

With flame and darkness ridge

The void, as low as where this earth

Spins like a fretful midge.

She scarcely heard her sweet new friends;

Playing at holy games,

Softly they spake among themselves

Their virginal chaste names;

And the souls, mounting up to God,

Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bowed above the vast

Waste sea of worlds, that swarm;

Untill her bosom must have made

The bar she leaned on warm,

And the lilies lay as if asleep

Along her bended arm.

From the fixed place of Heaven, she saw

Time like a pulse shake fierce

Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove

Within the gulf to pierce

Its path; and now she spoke, as when

The stars sang in their spheres.

The sun was gone now. The curled moon

Was like a little feather

Fluttering far down the gulf. And now

She spoke trough the still weather.

Her voice was like the voice the stars

Had when they sang together.

‘I wish that he were come to me,

For he will come,’ she said.

‘Have I not prayed in Heaven? - on earth,

Lord, Lord, has he not prayed?

Are not two prayers a perfect strength?

And shall I feel afraid?

‘When round his head the aureole clings,

And he is clothed in white,

I’ll take his hand, and go with him

To the deep wells of light,

And we will step down as to a stream

And bathe there in God’s sight.

‘We two will stand beside that shrine,

Occult, withheld, untrod,

Whose lamps tremble continually

With prayer sent up to God;

And see our old prayers, granted, melt

Each like a little cloud.

‘We two will lie i’ the shadow of

That living mystic tree,

Within whose secret growth the Dove

Is sometimes felt to be,

While every leaf that His plumes touch

Saith His name audibly.

‘And I myself will teach to him,

I myself, lying so,

The songs I sing here; which his voice

Shall pause in, hushed and slow,

And finde some knowledge at each pause,

Or some new thing to know.’

(Ah sweet! Just now, in that bird's song,

Strove not her accents there

Faint to be hearkened? When those bells

Possessed the midday air,

Was she not stepping to my side

Down all the trembling stair?)

‘We two,’ she said, ‘will seek the groves

Where the Lady Mary is,

With her five handmaidens, whose names

Are five sweet symphonies,

Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,

Margaret and Rosalys.

‘Circlewise sit they, with bound locks

And foreheads garlanded;

Into the fine cloth white like flame,

Weaving the golden thread,

To fashion the birth-robes for them

Who are just born, being dead.

‘He shall fear, haply, and be dumb;

Then I will lay my cheek

To his, and tell about our love,

Not once abashed or weak:

And the dear Mother will approve

My pride, and let me speak.

‘Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,

To Him round whom all souls

Kneel, the unnumbered ransomed heads

Bowed with their aureoles:

And angels meeting us shall sing

To their citherns and citoles.

‘There will I ask of Christ the Lord

Thus much for him and me: –

Only to live as once on earth,

At peace - only to be

As then awhile, for ever now

Together, I and he.’

She gazed, and listened, and then said,

Less sad of speech than mild,

‘All this is when he comes.’ She ceased.

The light thrilled past her, filled

With angels in strong level lapse.

Her eyes prayed, and she smiled.

(I saw her smile.) But soon their flight

Was vague in distant spheres;

And then she laid her arms along

The golden barriers,

And laid her face between her hands.

And wept. (I heard her tears.)

Source: A book of English poetry: Chaucer to Rossetti (Harrison, G. B. (1968.), A book of English poetry: Chaucer to Rossetti, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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