Lines Written in DejectionWilliam Butler Yeats
When have I last looked on
The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
Of the dark leopards of the moon?
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
Their angry tears, are gone.
The holy centaurs of the hills are vanished;
I have nothing but the embittered sun;
Banished heroic mother moon and vanished,
And now that I have come to fifty years,
I must endure the timid sun.
I saw this painting when I was a child. It was like someone had given me LSD. I became a Pre-Raphaelite that day.
The Delaware Art Museum contains the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the United States. I was lucky to grow up down the road from it. I still make pilgrimages to see these paintings when I need inspiration.
It was a weird and wonderful synergy that as I came west to study at Clarion, the Delaware Art Museum's Pre-Raphaelite collection also came west. Matt and I went to see them last Saturday at Balboa Park. He patiently listened to me lecture on the paintings, their meanings, the artists, and their lives and ideas. The Pre-Raphs believed that everyone could become an artist, and support themselves by creating beautiful things. Pre-Raphealite models, like Elizabeth Siddal and Maria Spartali, became accomplished artists themselves, in a time when few women attempted to become artists (Georgina Burne-Jones has some poignant words about this). The Pre-Raphs also win my affection through their belief in a classless society, and free love. They put nature and narrative at the center of their art. (For me, all art is narrative).
The woman in the painting is Jane Burden, later Jane Morris. She inspired some of Rossetti's greatest paintings. She was multilingual, a socialist, a weaver, and a supporter of Irish home rule. Here Rossetti has painted her as Mnemosene, goddess of memory.
The first time I saw this, I can remember feeling dominated and intoxicated by this image. The Pre-Raphaelites have always had their detractors, but you can tell, I have an almost completely uncritical view of them.