Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Blessed Damozel (1850)

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 were seven.

The opening stanza sets out many of the major tensions that will frame the rest of the poem: between heaven and earth, depth and surface, stasis and motion. One can think of the gold bar as having a reference to the gold standard that England had recently adopted in 1844–as a universal metric for literal exchange, it allows for the figural exchange between these various oppositions. Indeed, the painting “The Blessed Damozel’ has a gold bar running right through the middle of it, separating the flattened portrait of the lady (a face that according to Christina Rossetti was exchangeable with all of the other portraits in Dante’s studio because he only used one or two models) with the ostentatious depth of the “squashed” scene on the bottom.

144 lines in 24 six-inch stanzas. The striking symmetry of the poem itself rides the line between perfection and pure exchangeability. This is of course what Adorno has to say about the artwork as the ultimate or super-commodity–that which is universal and universally exchangeable.

Time: It seems to the Damozel that she has been in heaven for only a day, which is somehow the same as thousands of years. On earth, of course, time is felt.

The language is meant to be simple and natural, an application of pre-Raphaelite principles to poetry. it therefore verges on the sentimental.

In the final stanza, the speaker uses parentheses to insert his factual declaration of sensation: I saw her smile, I heard her tears. That this enters parenthetically points to subordination of these sensory aspects to a form that flattens sensation, impression, reflection, etc. Sensation would rupture the poetic contract that keeps the real and the aesthetic in two distinct realms.

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