Menella Bute Smedley

The Painter

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A hall it was, where myriad lamps a richer daylight made,
And folds of falling purple gave harmony to shade;
And odours, spreading softly, and lingering on the air,
Seem'd weightier than the nothings that men were murmuring there.
It was a board where rainbow-fruits on golden salvers glanced,
And, like a flood of melted gems, the merry winestream danced,
And couches of Etruscan grace stood round, that there might be,
Ev'n in the body's needs a kind of meaner poetry.
Round went the health, the Painter's name from lip to lip goes round,
And the lifted goblets ring, and the stricken boards resound;

Triumphant smiles the Painter, with a bowing monarch's mien,
And seems to feel the deathless crown upon his brows serene.
He hears the circling whisper: “The wonder of our time!”
“He painted Lady Margaret—the velvet was sublime!
You could have touch'd the downy curl that trembled on her cheek;
Her lips were shut so softly, you paused to hear them speak.”
And smiling sits the Painter, as the music lulls his sense;
This was his art's achievement, and this its recompense;—
Till, one by one, the guests are gone as smoothly as they came,
And to his studio door he staggers drunk with fame.
Wan and white, in the drear moonlight, his works upon him stare,

As the flicker of his lonely lamp just gilds them here and there,
They seem a spectral army, with a false faint life possess'd,
They gather round, they ask for souls, and smite each empty breast.
The daylight queen nods from the wall, a plumed and sceptred ghost,
And smiles back to the mocking smiles of all her ghastly host;
There is no movement, yet they seem to stir and cluster round;
There goes a whisper through the room, he starts, and hears no sound.
He laughs away the fancy, he hath reach'd his easel now,
And there stands still and gazes, cold hand on burning brow;
'Tis but a sketch, like many more around him loosely piled,
A simple theme oft tried in vain—the Mother and the Child.

One glares in gaudy drapery, a very tavern-sign;
One hath chill tints and wooden limbs, nor human nor divine;
One seems a peasant-maiden, with a fair babe at play;
And one a dame of quality in some quaint masque-array.
He grasps the brush, he labours, like a man whom frenzy stings;
The swift night flutters by and shows faint gleams upon her wings;
He pauses—lo! a foolish face smiles soft on his dismay,
One that might weep and be consoled a dozen times a-day!
“Why am I baffled thus?” cries the Painter in his wrath,
“I who have toil'd so valiantly along the upward path,
Gathering the glories of all time to swell my vast renown,
Standing on past achievements to grasp a present crown!

“I have been in stately galleries where Art her treasure keeps,
Where, dreaming of the day to come, the speechless Future sleeps;
I have loved all Nature's wonder-realms, her pomp of sun and shade,
Her council of grave mountains, rock-girded, cloud-array'd;
“Where the sweeping lights across them like sea-birds glance and dart,
And the silence of their shadows is like thunder in the heart,
51:And pale rocks glimmer faintly through dark and hollow glooms,
Like visions of some old churchyard all populous with tombs.
“And on still days, when sultry skies seem blue from pole to pole,
And slow waves creep across the sand like years across the soul,
And their murmur hath a measure like the chime of distant bells,

I have gather'd thoughts along the shore, as children gather shells.
“Out of these garner'd riches I would create at last,
The hand obeys the will, and the beauties gather fast,
Smooth are the tints and true the lines,—'tis finish'd! woe is me!
One touch by old Angelico holds more divinity!
“Why am I baffled thus? Does Art stand still and then rebound,
Like tides that know their limits, and retreat when these are found?
Is not the Past her empire? must not she rather be
A river widening as it flows into the endless sea?”
He ceases. Is it slumber that is stealing on him now?
A fall of sudden twilight drops cool upon his brow,
And through its wan and mazy gleams a narrow cell he sees,
And a grey lonely figure—a man upon his knees.
Lips eloquent in silence, deep eyes and full of light,

Brow peaceful as a babe's, where yet the cleansing dews are bright,
While, by the moon's dim lustre, he dreams that he can trace
The seal'd cross faintly shining through the shadows of that face.
The vision hath a sense of time; a night hath glided by,
And from his knees the man of prayer hath risen silently,
As on the first fair Easter-morn the waken'd saints arose,
When the moving of the sealèd stone broke on their long repose;
So, with a glory on his brow, he rose; 'twas strange to view
How, under his swift finger, a wondrous picture grew;
Grew, like a flower unfolded by some deep living law,
Scarce seen by him: his spirit's eye its own deep vision saw.

Lo, as from linkèd notes ye weave a harmony divine,
A perfect face is growing from blended tint and line;
How gravely falls the golden hair by each transparent cheek!
How lofty is the posture! the lifted gaze how meek!
See the bright pity of those eyes, those tender brows and pure,
The sorrow of those sever'd lips, calm waiting to endure;
She clasps the babe against her heart, nor shrinks, yet sees revealed
The sword that is to pierce her, through ev'n that awful shield.
The Mother and the Child—it is again that simple theme,—
Love born of grief! The Painter hath started from his dream;
When a soft voice comes suddenly, like dew on evening air,
“So went Angelico to work—say, how didst thou prepare?”

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Menella Bute Smedley