David Lewis Paget
Poems Beyond The Grave - Poem by David Lewis Paget
They took their shovels and digging tools
To the top of Highgate Hill,
They walked in a deadly silence there
In the dusk, in the evening chill,
They picked their way through the deep-laid bones,
The monuments, great and small,
And looked for the plain Rossetti stone
In their search for Elizabeth Siddal.
That red-haired, wraithlike, ghostly girl
Who had charmed the PRB,
She'd sat, at first, for Deverell
Who was doomed, with Bright's Disease,
She'd fallen hard for the artist then
Though her love was never returned,
For Deverell died so suddenly -
It was as if her love was spurned.
She sat for Dante Gabriel,
For Holman Hunt, Millais,
As the model for drowned Ophelia
In an ice cold bath she lay,
She lent her beauty to every brush,
Each stroke laid bare her soul,
When she looked around for herself she found
There was nothing left at all.
Rossetti had kept her close to him
As he slowly became obsessed,
He scribbled a dozen portraits from
Her head to her heaving breast,
He placed her high on a pedestal,
A Madonna in all but name,
But kept his physical love from her
That she might not suffer shame.
He penned the poems he wrote for her
In a small, grey calf-skin book,
He carried the poems everywhere
As a proof of the love it took,
He made no copies, he held them close
They were food for a future muse,
For his art and poetry vied with him -
It was painting he would choose.
But she; who knew what rent her soul,
The cravings she despaired?
She sipped at the potion laudanum
As her heart and her mind were bared,
She scribbled the weary verses that
Spoke love, of a love long-lost,
While Dante frolicked with Annie Hughes
At Elizabeth Siddal's cost.
As Lizzie despaired on laudanum
She had ceased to be of use,
Her visage was sad, and aged and drawn
In the sick room of abuse,
While girls with youth, vitality
And an earthy yen for sin
Like Fanny Cornforth, came to sit -
And Rossetti let them in.
They wed, but much as a faded dream
The knot had been tied too late,
As Lizzie, dying a little each day
Succumbed to a morbid fate,
For one dark night she had laid her down
Penned a final note, to whit:
'My life has become so miserable
That I want no more of it.'
She lay by an empty laudanum phial,
Rossetti was quite distraught,
He'd loved her, but with a purer love
Than his lust or his money bought,
His grief was such, as he laid her down
In her coffin, she looked so fair,
That he placed the book of his poems
Between her cheek and her auburn hair.
The years went on and he sank himself
In a pit of despond, unwell,
Withdrew from his friends and dosed himself
With a phial of chloral,
His painting suffered, his income too,
He turned to the ancient muse,
And thought of the poems beyond the grave,
He knew that he'd have to choose!
He wrote to Charles Augustus Howell
A rogue that he'd used before,
To test him; whether to dig her up
Or to lose his poems forever;
Howell replied he should get them back,
Or he'd lose them to death, for good,
'Your works are the works of genius,
Bring them back to the world - You should! '
So Howell, he toiled up Highgate Hill
While Dante hid in his lair,
Too scared to look on his love again,
His muse with the auburn hair,
A fire was lit in the dead of night
The coffin was raised on high,
His love was torn from her deathly stare
They could almost hear her sigh.
The book was caught in her tangled hair
Which had filled the coffin's space,
And she was lovely, and quite serene
As they lifted the book from her face,
They lowered her gently, back in the ground
That had served as her awful tomb,
She lay defiled like a bride, reviled,
But without her lawful groom.
Rossetti published his poems then,
They sold by the thousandfold,
For Howell had leaked the story out
That he hadn't wanted told;
But a fate awaited Augustus Howell
A revenge that would beggar belief,
He was found, throat cut in the gutter -
With a coin, tight clenched in his teeth!
25 April 2009
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