Note — In the late 19th century through the early 20th, there was a school of art called “The Pre-Raphaelite Movement”. Its painters drew on Medieval and Renaissance colors, subject matter, fantasy and other elements of a distant time to define their work. The most famous artists of the period were , of course, men like Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Waterhouse, William Morris and others. However, there was also a female counterpart to the male members of this new artistic order. They were determined as well to express themselves through inventive and creative ideas on canvas. But for a woman to define herself as an artist was quite scandalous at the time. It was often considered sacrilege (unholy) for a woman to disrupt her social values and duties to pursue such a dream or foster that kind of ambition. Yet, brave women like Elizabeth Siddal and others prevailed defying cultural norms and criticism. This poem is about a fictitious member of the group based loosely on the combined work/perspective of Evelyn Morgan and Maria Spartail Spellman.
Sister From The Order Of The Pre-Raphaelites
Do not think I wear an apron
to peel, dust or polish. No, I wear this garment
to solely paint. The room cleared of carpets and furniture,
the windows lacking drapes. Heat rises from the iron grate
and with it, the outside drifts in
haunting my canvas with Tuscan hills and field, A knight
shadowing the girl who walks barefoot
along the shallow river. Her blonde hair
falling into the breeze
like catkins hanging
from the cypress or willow. Her thin arms
burdened with loaves of bread to feed the sick.
And hints of them
grafted to the bush. Their sack cloth hoods
a shade darker than the summer foliage
drooping over water that washes stone
scabbed with lichen. A leprous gray.
This is the universe I create —
the blessed and the forsaken. And for this,
I forsake marriage and children. And for this,
I become a martyr of misfits. My hand haloed
with an oak palette.
My body starched in the resolve
of unholy work.
The lovely watercolor is by artist, Mary Sloan