“I saw that Poe had done the utmost it was possible to do with the grief of the lover an earth, and I determined to reverse the conditions, and give utterance to the yearnings of the loved one in heaven.”
His Blessed Damozel, wearing a white rose, “Mary’s gift,” leaning out from the gold bar of heaven, watching with sad eyes, “deeper than the depth of waters stilled at even,” for the coming of her lover, has left a lasting impression on many readers. Simplicity, beauty, and pathos are the chief characteristics of this poem, which, like Bryant’s Thanatopsis, was written by a youth of eighteen.
Painting was the chief work of Rossetti’s life, but he wrote many other poems. Some of the most characteristic of these are the two semi-ballads, Sister Helen and The King’s Tragedy, Rose Mary, Love’s Nocturn, and Sonnets.
One of the earliest of these Sonnets, Mary’s Girlhood, describes the child as:—
“An angel-watered lily, that near
Grows and is quiet.”
His sister, Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), the author of much religious verse, shows the unaffected naturalness of the new movement. This stanza from her Amor Mundi (Love of the World) is characteristic:—
“So they two went together in glowing
The honey-breathing heather lay to their left and right;
And dear she was to doat on, her swift feet seemed to float on
The air like soft twin pigeons too sportive to alight.”
William Morris (1834-1896), Oxford graduate, decorator, manufacturer, printer, and poet, was born near London. He was fascinated by The Blessed Damozel, and his first and most poetical volume, The Defence of Guinevere and Other Poems (1858), shows Rossetti’s influence. The simplicity insisted on by the new school is evident in such lines as these from Two Red Roses across the Moon:—
“There was a lady lived in a hall,
Large in the eyes and slim and tall;
And ever she sung from noon to noon,
Two red roses across the moon.”
Morris later wrote a long series of narrative poems, called The Earthly Paradise (1868-1870) and an epic, Sigurd the Volsung (1876). He turned from Pre-Raphaelitism to become an earnest social reformer.
In literature, the Pre-Raphaelite movement disdained the old conventions and started a miniature romantic revival, which emphasized individuality, direct expression, and the use of simple words. Its influence soon became merged in that of the earlier and far greater romantic school.
[Illustration: THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY. From the painting by Sir F. Grant, National Portrait Gallery.]