Pre-Raphaelite Morning: Paintings on the Beach
Sunrise hammers the lake
into flattened metal, and two crisp
swallows detail the sky. Hunt
or Millais might have painted this scene,
the playground equipment intensely
cobalt as it waits unused, surrounded
by slender, newly planted trees. No one
sits in the slightly moving swing.
Not a young girl with a garland
of marguerites. Not Sylvia,
Dorothy, or Vanessa cutting class.
But still the school of nature beckons.
From my window, I watch a solitary
man amble the beach. He could be
a painter, planning his composition.
He could be drawn by the girl-less
swing on a grey day to imagine
that it is not too late, that painting
her there might make her real.
Or he may have risen early to avoid
sleep and his half-brother death
because even in morning, darkness
is always present, just as the heart
of snow beats steadily in June.
This day will pass as most days:
I will see the woman walking
her dog and the cloud that crosses
the sky like most clouds
that have passed. And when
I think of night with her train
of stars, I imagine, not a trailing
gown, but a steaming freight
that roars out of the west, devouring
each bright remnant of the day.
Painting titles used in the poem (grouped by stanza):
Young Girl with a Garland of Marguerites (Sophie Anderson)
Sylvia (Frank Bernard Dicksee)
Dorothy (Frank Bernard Dicksee)
Vanessa (John Everett Millais)
The School of Nature (William Holman Hunt)
A Gray Day (Daniel Alexander Williamson)
Too Late (William Lindsay Windus)
Sleep and his Half-brother Death (John William Waterhouse)
Heart of Snow (Edward Robert Hughes)
Woman Walking her Dog (Edward Robert Hughes)
The Cloud (Arthur Hacker)
Night with her Train of Stars (Edward Robert Hughes)
Editor’s Note: Imagery, metaphor, personification—this poem is deceptively easy to read, yet the technique beneath its words draws the reader inside the narrator’s world with skillful appeal. The creative use of painting titles adds an additional element of ekphrasis to the poem.
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