At the Shrine, John William Waterhouse
She walks in Beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
The above painting has been a favorite since I first laid eyes on it as a kid – an incredibly tender portrait of a young married couple on their honeymoon, done by Sir Frederick Lord Leighton, an English pre-Raphaelite painter in the 19th century. The details are more vivid in a larger version, but I’m always struck but how delicately he holds her hand, and the attitude of complete trust with which she leans on him, every flow and line of her body and dress falling in to that movement.
I also always associated it with a favorite romantic poem – “The Last Ride Together” by Robert Browning. The old Victorian poets are still the masters of romance – this epic, delicate poem charged with love and longing is a childhood favorite – and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how appropriate it was that I’d always associated the intense tenderness of these two works (the painting and the poem) together, because there is in fact a connection – Leighton was commissioned by Robert Browning to design Elizabeth Browning’s gravestone.
In “The Last Ride Together,” two lovers ride together before being parted.
I said–Then, dearest, since ’tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seem’d meant for, fails,
Since this was written and needs must be–
My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness!
Take back the hope you gave,–I claim
Only a memory of the same,
–And this beside, if you will not blame;
Your leave for one more last ride with me.